Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Truth About the iPhone

The following is copied from an entry I wrote for something else.
More information and personal opinions will follow when I find some more time.

I had the unique opportunity to be here in Silicon Valley (home of Steve Jobs and birthplace of Apple Computer) for the release of the much hyped Apple iPhone.
There was in fact a line forming from the local AT&T store down the street, waiting for the doors to open at 6:00, and a local mall was so swamped in front of the Apple Store that Wozniak himself showed up on his Segway Scooter to keep the crowd in control (gotta love the Woz).
All this so that these hardcore fans could be of the first to drop $600 for the latest piece of the Apple Pie (oy, puns).
But is this really the "Jesus phone" that its been hyped up to be? Can anything really be worth the aggressive marketing, countless press releases, and of course the outrageous price tag?

Well, now that its out, I'll tell you what I've learned of this coveted gadget.

As an ipod this will not disappoint you. It is said to be the best interface yet, and that's saying alot since the ipod is known to be the standard in user friendly audio players. I'll admit that I'm not the biggest ipod fan personally, but I'll also admit that Apple has always had a very well designed interface for all of their products. One over-enthusiastic fan describes the new interface as "designed by angels". Yes, its very pretty.

But since it is called the i-PHONE, the cellular phone features must be considered as well. Sadly, this is where the iPhone begins to disappoint.
The early adopters have reported that the call quality is actually not so great, not deal-breaker awful but still worse than your average motorola or nokia phone. Also, surprisingly missing for a $600 behemoth are some music features found in standard phones, such as the stereo bluetooth profile (for wireless music) and being able to set an mp3 as a ringtone. Many users have reported that the text entry has a very steep learning curve, however that may be a complaint that will smooth itself out as people get more acquainted with the device.
Another surprisingly missing feature for a device that claims to have a revolutionary web browsing experience is high speed internet (aka 3G data). AT&T has had 3G phones for a couple of years now, with speeds approaching broadband internet, yet the iPhone is only capable of EDGE (2G), which translates to speeds comparable to dial-up in a majority of the country. This is very disappointing since most of AT&T's lineup supports 3G, especially devices costing more than $100. While the zooming in and out of webpages may be pretty and fun, some users have reported that average websites take over 2 entire minutes just to load. (2 minutes may not seem like much, but try counting to 120 before you can view your site and you'll understand how that can be excruciatingly slow)
Other would-be-nice-to-have features are a removable battery so that you can swap a spare when travelling (iphone's battery, like the ipod, is serviceable by Apple only), and a couple of physical dedicated buttons for call control (other touch-screen phones have at least a FEW real buttons so that you can easily jump to certain screens without having to tap your way through menus. Some online reviewers complained that the lack of buttons on the iphone at all means call controls were buried in menus, making it difficult to jump from music playing to placing a call).
Once again, these aren't deal-breakers, but one should expect more from a device with so much fanfare.

I would like to also express my biggest pet peeves with the hype surrounding this phone- it is being touted as "the most revolutionary smartphone to date". Ok, let's set something straight- the iPhone IS NOT A SMARTPHONE! It may be smartly designed, but the definition of a smartphone is a phone with PDA-like features, capable of installing 3rd party software and totally customizable.
Examples of a Smartphone include the Palm Treo line, Motorola's Q, the HTC Windows Mobile Handsets, Nokia's Symbian S60 phones, and Sony Ericsson's P900 UIQ series. These devices allow you to install software that directly accesses the hardware of your device, and effectively allows you to make your phone the perfect fit for YOU. Don't like that web browser? Scrap it and install another one. Want a better media player (perhaps to play DivX video)? Install one and make it your default media player! Want to turn your phone into a webcam? well you get the picture- the iphone can't do any of that, and thus is not worthy of the term "Smartphone".
Devices such as the blackberry and sidekick are NOT smartphones because they do not have operating systems that allow you to install your own software like a computer. Basically, they have many features, but you are limited to whatever it does out of the box and will never be able to add new features to it. This is the category that the iPhone falls into.

Now, that's not to say that the iphone is without its own merit... The Apple fanboys out there (the type with posters of Steve Jobs in their bedroom) will argue that the "missing" features are not must-haves for a cellular phone. After all, you can still buy many non-PDA phones with slow internet 2G speeds that don't have any mp3 ringtone support, or any music support at all. However, keep in mind that these phones are usually $50 or less. For the amount that they are asking for this device, you should expect more. Heck, for this price I'd expect it to mow my lawn and put my kids to sleep!

If you've been waiting for the next generation of Ipods, this is it. Its a work of art, has a great interface and sports killer audio and video functions. That is, assuming 4-8GB's is enough room for you!
If, however, you're looking for a full-featured top of the line phone, this is nothing more than an expensive toy. Is has sub-par call quality, lacks a customizable operating system, and is missing features that other much cheaper phones have.

For the money, you'd be better off buying a regular 30gig ipod AND a decent windows or even palm powered smartphone. Or better yet, a small laptop!