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.
- 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]
- 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]