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No, I’m (Probably) Not Getting an iPhone

So Apple’s big news has been quite the talk of today, with no less than five people emailing me and/or calling me about it – despite the fact that I’m more or less the anti-Machead. We also had quite the time discussing it on #redmonk. My quick take? Gorgeous, really interesting device, but not terribly interested.

It’s not the carrier – I’ve been on Cingular for something like a year 1 – but concerns around durability and pricing.

What I Like

  • Look and Feel: Not that I expected anything less, but it’s a gorgeous piece of hardware
  • Connectivity: Quad-band/bluetooth/wifi, from what I’ve seen, make this more than just a phone. It’s like an iPod crossed with a Nokia 770 crossed with an LG.
  • OS: I’ll assume this is a positive until I see differently, but running OS X should a.) make Mac fans happy, b.) be more usable than any other cellular interface that I’ve seen (particularly Motorolas2, which in my experience are awful), c.) makes it (theoretically) compatible with Mac widgets and apps (even Skype, potentially).
  • GSM: Sprint and Verizon customers are likely pissed and/or contemplating a switch (my brother is apparently one of the latter), but the choice of a GSM carrier is natural because it means the phone can be used in a wide variety of markets worldwide.

What I Don’t Like

  • Cost: $500 minimum (w/ two year contract, from what I’ve seen) is a lot for a phone, even for a phone that’s more than a phone, and even for Apple’s premium look and ease of use. Doubtless many Apple fanatics will happily unload the cash for it, but that’s more than I can easily justify – even for work. I could see investing that amount in something less likely to break, but my phone goes everywhere with me. From airports to My Brother’s bar to the Kennebec River to the mountains of Keystone; it must be more durable, in other words, than either laptop or iPod. Maybe the iPhone is, but I doubt it.
  • Durability?: Why so skeptical of the ability of the device to remain unbroken? Well, I have to say that the recent Macbook issues, which include random shutdowns, overheating frames, and melting power cords don’t precisely inspire confidence. Nor does the fact that the touchscreen itself is a newly minted feature (does it work, for example, if the screen gets scratched up like the iPods have been known to do?). Or the fact that this is the first time – that I’m aware of – that OS X has been ported to a device of this type. I expect problems, and lots of them. And I’d really rather not have my phone go in for service for weeks or more (although be fair, you could keep a backup phone and just swap the SIM card out). I could deal with losing my iPod to AppleCare this summer for two weeks; for a phone, that would be unacceptable.
  • Battery Life: Five hours was what I’ve heard claimed in terms of talk time, and that would be more or less comparable to the last two phones I’ve had. I’m assuming, however, that that assumes no or low usage of features like wifi and/or bluetooth, which are at once huge enemies of the battery and the precise features that would make the phone interesting to me. My iPod video, as an example, has pretty solid 12 hour battery life – as long as you’re not using the video feature. Soon as you do that, it’s halved or less. That’s not Apple’s fault, but I’m not sure battery technologies are capable of supporting this kind of interface yet. Would be happy to be proven wrong, however.
  • Touchscreen: I’m not a huge fan of touchscreen interfaces, personally. I’m willing to give Apple the benefit of the doubt here, where I wouldn’t for many others, but I’ve never really used one that was problem free. My Nokia 770 is pretty good but can be laggy and doesn’t always deal with surface grime well. On the bottom end of the spectrum, I spent a half hour on New Year’s eve simply trying to load the jukebox at Wynkoop Brewing b/c the touch screen was more or less non-responsive. Apple’s will be very good, I’m quite sure, but for how long. And what will happen when the proximity sensor it uses to detect your face invariably craps out?
  • Connectivity: Yes, it’s both a strength and a weakness. It’s great that it has quad-band, because you can use it abroad. It’s also great that it has wifi, b/c when it’s available that’ll probably be your fastest option. What’s not so great is the 2.5/3G option: EDGE sucks. Sorry to say it, but it’s just not that great. I had it on my Nokia 6200, and it was poor to quite poor. Even my LG CU320′s UMTS, which is theoretically much faster than EDGE, is only so-so. Cingular, as I understand it, is currently rolling out an upgrade to its network called HSDPA which is much faster than either EDGE or UMTS – it’s competitive with Verizon’s EV-DO, for their customers. While it’s not widely available yet, there are currently phones that support it and eventually it will be more omnipresent. At which point not having access to that network will be a liability. Why? Because as EV-DO customers can tell you, high speed cellular access is infinitely preferable to the inconsistency of wifi.

Will They Sell Well?

If the anecdotal conversations I’ve had are any indication, the answer is yes: hell yes. They’d sell even better if the price came down, or they released it on CDMA as well as GSM networks, but as Alex pointed out it’s probably in Apple’s best interests to gate demand for these things. And they will, undoubtedly, have customers that will happily pay the premium they’re asking for. Hell, they have already customers paying extra just for the color black. So yes, I think they’ll sell well.

Will I Buy One?

Not any time soon. I just can’t justify spending $500 on a device that I’m as likely to break as my phone. No, not even if RedMonk’s writing the check (or actually, especially if RedMonk’s writing the check ;). If the prices come down, as they have over the years for iPods, I’ll consider it. Before that happens, however, I’m hopeful that efforts like the OpenMoko will provide me with a viable alternative based on open source technologies.

But for all of you Mac-fiends, enjoy. It’s sure as hell a nice looking device.

  1. And quite happily, I might add. Cingular doesn’t lock down their hardware in draconian fashion as does Verizon, allowing me to use the hardware and services as I see fit. [back]
  2. Speaking of whom, I wonder if they feel at all used given their efforts vis a vis the no-selling-waste-of-space ROKR? [back]

Categories: Product Announcements.

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  • http://gfmorris.net/ Geof F. Morris

    Alan Greenspan would call me irrationally exuberant, but … this Cingular customer will make the leap this summer.

  • http://blogs.sun.com/comay/ David Comay

    It might be good also to subject the iPhone to the test your colleague Coté did with his cell phone!

    Oh well, we just signed a new contract with T-Mobile so this new one won’t be on our shopping list until early 2008.

  • http://aqualung.typepad.com/aqualung Ric

    Does it feel liberating to be out of step? So far yours is the only “won’t get it” post I’ve seen! I’ll have plenty of time to think about it – not available in Australia until 2008 apparently … but it IS beautiful.

  • http://www.brandonwhichard.com Brandon

    It all comes down to the touch screen. If it works well, then it will sell big time. You can’t dislike the touchscreen before you try it :)

  • http://www.michaeldolan.com Mike Dolan

    All valid points – and for the most part I completely agree with your assessment. A couple comments…

    What about someone who’s about to drop $349 for the 80GB video iPod… for an extra $150 you can get the coolest phone imaginable that also functions as your iPod. When I go to the gym, I take my cell phone and either a MP3 player or my PSP (the poker game Stacked for PSP while working out is addicting – different story).

    I’ve been trying to get to an ‘all in one’ for some time – the RAZR has “music capabilities” but they’re so dumbed down by Motorola I never use it. Even better would be if cell phone companies could figure out single sign on such that users could have multiple cell devices (like say if I want an iPhone for everyday and then switch instantly to using my RAZR for when I don’t need all the baggage in my pocket while I’m skiing – same phone #, same account, just sign into a different device on the network)… I could dream all day.

    I see Apple busting the doors open in this market as only goodness for the average consumer. It’ll play out over time for sure, but Motorola’s stock dropped for a reason… If I could even in a stretch argument justify paying the fee to break my Verizon agreement, then pay for an iPhone, and bring myself to actually sign up for Cingular’s notoriously poor service, I’d be doing it solely to get this phone. One thing’s for sure, I never would have considered doing the above before the iPhone – that’s why this will have impact.

    Apple took its time bringing this to market – the details and polish are readily apparent.

  • http://www.joelpm.com/ Joel

    Though I have no evidence other than my own observation, it seems to me that the upgrade cycle on cellphones is shorter than that of iPods. By chaining the two together they’re able to charge a premium (I can easily see people justifying $600 because “It’s cheaper than buying both a BlackBerry and a video iPod, and I only have to carry one thing!”), and they can charge it more frequently because people are used to upgrading their cell phones more often.

    I also think cell phones are seen as less of a luxury item than portable media players, so they’ll also win over the people who can justify a cell phone but not an iPod. They might even win people who were looking at ultra-portable laptops, though that will depend to a large extent on how easy it is to input text on the touch-screen interface.

  • http://www.bregar.com Justin

    Mike> I think it’s really not realistic to say that the iPhone is a real alternative to those who’re “about to drop $349 for the 80GB video iPod”. People who’re looking at the video iPods (especially the larger capacity one) are NOT going to consider an 8GB device adequate. As the owner of a 60GB iPod, one of the main appeals to me is that I don’t have to choose what to put on it, it’s all just there. I’d imagine most 80GB purchasers are the same way.

    I’m conflicted on the iPhone. While I think some of the features are pretty revolutionary, I’ve started thinking that the iPhone is really aimed at a weird market. Most people who buy “smartphones” and can justify $500-600 cell phones are business users. Business users are (largely) going to want push integration with the infrastructure their companies are already using, which usually means something that’s NOT Yahoo Mail (like it or not, usually Exchange). These people are also likely to not care about the music features.

    The other side of the fence is the consumer. By and large, the consumer market is used to $50-100 phones. To them, $500 WITH contract is going to seem very very high.

    I, too, am giving Apple the benefit of the doubt on touchscreen text and numeric input. Every permutation of that I’ve tried sucks something fierce, but I’m reserving judgement.

  • http://www.michaeldolan.com Mike Dolan

    Yeah I can buy that argument that 80GB users are maybe not looking for this. The point though is still that it’s not entirely out of the mental range. When the RAZR launched it was originally $300+ even with contracts. I think the price is at a premium, but over time I won’t be surprised to see it drop accordingly.

  • http://tieguy.org/blog/ Luis Villa

    Yeah I can buy that argument that 80GB users are maybe not looking for this. The point though is still that it’s not entirely out of the mental range.

    It won’t be out of the mental range when flash drives hit 64Gb in two years. But for now it is, I think. This is a capable replacement for a phone and a shuffle, not a phone and a regular ipod, nor for a pda (given that multiple sources are now reporting that it will be locked down.) IMHO, it has to either replace phone+ipod (which will come, but not in the first generation) or replace a pda for it to be successful.

  • http://lptf.blogspot.com matt m

    I like the qwerty blackberry keyboard. I can’t see that typing could possibly be as fast or accurate without physical buttons. It’s missing tactile feedback. Something like the treo goes too far the other way with really stiff buttons, but no buttons typing hasn’t worked for anyone, with the possible exception of palm’s graffiti. I just thing of the times the cuff of my sleeve has brushed the synaptics touchpad on my lap and put me in the wrong cell in Excel.

    I think Apple knew that had to do something really different- and it certainly is different, it really is an exciting product. It just doesn’t seem practical for the way a lot of people do serious writing on their mobiles. Then again, it’s all about texting with the kids, so maybe the keyboard is good enough for 160 chars.

    I think Justin’s point about sync-ing with Exchange is important- but really, is any corporate IT dept going to buy an mp3 player for their staff? Beside Apple’s….

  • http://tieguy.org/blog/ Luis Villa

    I think all the analysts are trying to pigeonhole this as a pda; steve would probably tell you it isn’t one. He’d say to think of it as a far better phone than a far worse PDA. Lots of people want that. Eventually it’ll disrupt the PDA market, but that is further off. (Though like I said, at the price point, it should be a far better phone and a better ipod- which it isn’t until the HD gets bigger. iPhone 2.0 will take the phone world by storm, I think.)

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  • http://saviorodrigues.wordpress.com/ Savio Rodrigues

    Great points Stephen.

    I have to say that I want one just because it looks cool (yes, shinny things make me happy). But being in Canada, it won’t get here until 2013 and I’m torn by my inner ‘open source conscience’:

    If we sing the praises of open source (especially freedom and choice) when it comes to enterprise software, shouldn’t we temper our Apple love? I can’t think of many other companies that deliver walled-garden-products and yet everyone seems to grin and bear it. In most cases, customers just grin (because they’re not even sure there’s anything to bear).

    As I’ve written here, does that mean open standards/open source/freedom/choice are things we’re willing to trade off against coolness and enjoyment when it comes to our consumer purchases, but not our enterprise purchases? Does that make me a bad person? ;-)

    http://saviorodrigues.wordpress.com/2007/01/10/iphones-commentary-on-open-source/

  • http://nigeljames.wordpress.com Nigel James

    I am with matt m. I love my blackberry’s qwerty keyboard. I don’t own an iPod and to be honest am not rushing to get this phone or pod.

    Thanks for the balance Stephen.

    Nigel

  • http://tieguy.org/blog/ Luis Villa

    BTW, sog: do you have any numbers on the relative size of the PDA and mp3 player market? My sense is that the mp3 player market is 5-10x as large, but that’s just a random guess that may be skewed by currently being a student.

  • http://http:/www.accmanpro.com Dennis Howlett

    ROKR? That was STNKR wasn’t it?

  • http://saviorodrigues.wordpress.com/ Savio Rodrigues

    Hey Luis, here’s a comment from Steve Jobs during his keynote: “26m game consoles sold, 94m digital cameras, 135m MP3 players, 209m PCs, 957m phones…” (Source: Engadget)

    So, even if 1% of 957m mobile phones are ‘smart phones’, that’s still a healthy number compared to MP3 players. I know your question was about PDAs but who really has a PDA that isn’t inside of the phone these days :-)

  • http://blog.jeffhaynie.us Jeff Haynie

    I think the phone will start off a little high like other luxury items and then they will drop it – probably by Christmas to really drive demand and make it look like a big deal. I’m sure Cingular is going to be subsidizing a good bit of the price tag anyway.

    Probably the most disappointing news (yet understandable for Apple) is that they’ve picked Cingular.

    Oh, and I hate Blackberry’s keyboard. I’ve tried to use it now for about a year and a half and I just finally gave it up. I now only read email on my phone and rarely ever respond (forgot even trying to write).

  • sogrady

    Geof: you’re not the only one, from the looks of it.

    David: at $500, i don’t think anyone will be trying that soon ;)

    Ric: a bit, but sentiment seems to be swinging back the other way since Jobs announced that it would be a closed platform. they’re still going to sell a ton of them, but a surprising number of Apple fans i’ve talked to won’t get be getting one.

    Brandon: well, i do give Apple the benefit of the doubt, but i’m with some of the other commenters who don’t think you’ll be able to type as well with it as, say, a blackberry.

    Mike: good points all around, but i still think there are use case differences w/ the devices that preclude easy conflation of the devices. and even combining funds is problematic for some, as they’ll spend some money on an iPod but very little on a phone and so on. and, as Justin points out it’s not really an adequate audio device for someone like me right now.

    Justin: amen. and even more interesting is the recent announcement that a two year contract w/ Cingular is not optional, but a requirement. great point about Exchange as well.

    Luis: well, i don’t know that i’d put those constraints on it being successful, because i think it’ll sell very well, but i do believe that you’re correct that in its current incarnation it’s limiting itself.

    matt m: similar reservations here. but it is Apple, so i’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

    Savio: i’m actually most of a pragmatist when it comes to devices. while i choose to use open source on my desktop, for example, i have no problem with the volume of open source folks that choose to use MacBooks and the like. so feel free to buy what’s shiny ;)

    Nigel: no worries – glad you got something out of this.

    Luis: the short answer is no, i have no hard numbers. but i wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers are even higher than that in favor of MP3 players. consider that when walking during commuting hours in a lot of cities – Boston, for example – nearly everyone has an MP3 player of some sort that they’re listening to.

    while on the other hand, i only know a couple of folks that carry PDAs. i don’t really factor in the phone PDAs that Savio mentions b/c most of the folks that i know who have those devices don’t use them as PDAs – merely email devices, nothing more.

    Dennis: yeah, AKA a no-selling-waste-of-space ;)

    Jeff: i’ll be very interested in seeing what they sell it at come Christmas. price will be a big factor in how well these things sell, methinks.

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