The Apple iPhone: The Hits, Misses and Omissions

First, to be clear, I’m blogging on a Windows Mobile site, and I’m a Windows Mobile MVP, so you can certainly assume I have a bias. However, this bias perhaps only adds balance to the general hype surrounding the iPhone announcement. Certainly there’s no greater hype than Steve Jobs’ keynote speech itself where he said: “Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everythingâ€. That’s quite a claim, and in case you don’t want to read this whole posting, I will tell you now that, unlike the iPod before it, I seriously doubt that this cool looking phone will ever live up to such a statement.

Apple iPhone

In any case, please read on and judge for yourself.

First the Home Runs:

  • The User Interface (UI)
    There’s no questioning Apple’s lead in making sexy user interfaces and it appears that the iPhone is no exception. The Multitouch feature that allows you to do things like zoom by placing two fingers on the touchscreen at the same time and moving them away or towards each other to zoom in or out is really cool. Of course aside from the multitouch, the realtime zoom and pan features are nothing new. Picsel has been offering this technology to device manufactures and carriers for years. Perhaps with the iPhone announcement, Microsoft and their hardware makers will incorporate this feature.

 

Advanced Voicemail This is a feature that is a long time in coming and it’s really great! Instead of having to wade through a bunch of long winded voicemails to get to that one from that important contact (your customer, boss, spouse, etc.) you can see a list of voicemails and who they are from and select them in any order. Now why did it take Apple to come up with this feature? Is it that the carriers love the fact that we all are wasting our contract minutes listening to voicemails, saving them, and listening again and again in order to get to the content that we want? This feature had to be done with cooperation from Cingular and it’s probably the most useful unique feature the iPhone offers. Of course the question will remain as to how long it will take before other carriers and phone makers catch up on this one.

 

HTML Email For me, one of the most annoying oversights of Windows Mobile is the lack of support for HTML formatted email. It always has seemed strange to me given the fact that all Windows Mobile devices have a built in browser that could be used as an engine to display HTML content of email. It’s been explained to me that the reason this is not done is that while you could read such emails, it would require more complexity to allow you to reply to them in HTML format. The iPhone supports rich email content which is only becoming more important with time. Then again, if this is the “killer app†for you and you have a Windows Mobile device, you might want to check out FlexMail from WebIS (the makers of Pocket Informant.)

 

Full Featured Web Browser Again, this is not really new, but the iPhone will have a version of the Safari web browser. Because of the zoom and pan feature, you can get virtually the same view of the Internet as you get on the desktop. No more special mobile-centric pages. Again, Picsel has offered this for other mobile platforms for years, but they don’t offer sale to the general public. We just have to wait for more OEMs to license their technology (or for Microsoft to buy the company!) Like with HTML email, if you want a better browser on Windows Mobile than Pocket IE, you currently have to go to third parties such as Opera.

 

The Various Sensors In typical Apple fashion, the iPhone has a few tricks for making the device practical and fun to use. There’s an accelerometer to detect when you rotate the iPhone between landscape and portrait orientations and automatically changes the display. Not having a device to play with, I’m quite curious about this feature. I assume that they are using an accelerometer rather than something based on gravity so that it wouldn’t matter if you were lying on the couch while using the iPhone – the absolute orientation wouldn’t matter, just if you are rotating it to the left or right. I do wonder how it would work in a moving vehicle? There’s also a proximity sensor to turn off the display and touch screen when you are holding the iPhone to your ear. This saves battery life for the display and prevents your cheek from pressing buttons on the touchscreen. Finally, like a number of Windows Mobile devices, the iPhone will have an ambient light sensor to adjust the display brightness based on current conditions. Although this is a feature that many people find annoying and therefore disable, I would not be surprised to find that Apple got it right.

 

Bluetooth 2.0 Apple is known for making Bluetooth easy and well integrated. I fully expect the same with the iPhone. Providing Bluetooth 2.0 means, among other things, full stereo audio support. The Bluetooth stack in the current crop of Windows Mobile devices leaves a lot to be desired and perhaps the competition will get Microsoft to improve their Bluetooth Support in Windows Mobile.

 

The Display At 320x480 it’s one-half VGA, at least twice what most Windows Mobile devices offer. Certainly not revolutionary considering there are Windows Mobile devices with double that resolution at VGA, but I fully expect the iPhone’s screen to be clear, bright and fast.

 

Memory Many people are questioning the apparent lack of a memory card slot in the iPhone, but if it’s true, I don’t see that as a major problem. The device will come with either 4 or 8GB of internal flash. Considering that the memory slots in the various Windows Mobile devices that are currently available max out at 4GB of storage or less, the downsides are that you can’t carry multiple cards to hold different files, and you have to rely on a data connection to restore information if it’s wiped out by some sort of corruption. Probably the most important consideration is that unless your digital camera has Wi-Fi or Bluetooth (and most do not), you won’t be able to transfer images to the iPhone. Yes, the iPhone has a 2M pixel camera built-in, but I’m certain that the lens is not up to the standards needed to replace even the most basic digital camera. Therefore, I’m hoping that while it’s not mentioned in the specs, Apple might include an SD Slot for the device.

These are the main “hits†as I see it, so let’s now look at where I think the iPhone has missed...

The Misses and Errors

  • Touchscreen Only Interface
    Yes, I know it’s what we all saw was the future based on Star Trek the Next Generation, but while touchscreens are useful in many ways, they lack “tactile feedback†that makes hardware keys desirable and when it comes to a phone, you might even say a necessity. Apple is even taking the touchscreen to another level by not providing a stylus. Sure it’s annoying to have to pull out the stylus – and of course we all lose them from time to time, but the small point of the stylus tip is superior for many applications to using a fat finger. I’m assuming that the Multi-touch input sensor is able to do a better job of determining where your finger is than conventional touch screens, but I’m certain it can’t overcome the fact that you cover much of your view when you use a finger instead of a stylus. More importantly, mobile phones are often used in situations where we can’t (or don’t want to) look at the device in order to answer a call, disconnect, etc. having a few buttons you can find by feel alone to me is critical.

 

Two Handed Operation Yes the Multi-touch interface looked cool in Jobs’ keynote, but when you stop and think about it, this is a two handed device. You can’t do all those gestures with the fingers of the same hand that’s holding the iPhone. In a pinch, even the largest Windows Mobile phone (the HTC Universal) is able to be manipulated with the same hand that’s holding it. And while Windows Mobile continues to do more with each release to make one-handed operation easier, it’s interesting to see that the iPhone is completely ignoring this as a requirement for a practical phone.

 

Single Carrier From what we are told, Cingular has a two year exclusive deal with Apple for the iPhone in the USA. Yes, Cingular (or AT&T Wireless if that’s what they will be called again soon) is the largest carrier in the USA, but why would Apple sign such a deal? Perhaps they didn’t have any other takers out of the other major national carriers. After all, Apple is looking to control much of the content with the iPhone and the carriers see content as their domain. Also, there’s appearing to be a bit of a public “backlash†to iTunes and the iPod is no longer the hip device it once was.

 

The Cost In his keynote address at MacWorld, Steve Jobs compared the cost of the iPhone to the price of buying an iPod and a high-end mobile phone and noted that the one device was price comparably to replacing both. But the reality is that most iPod users are not the typical smartphone user. Plus with the exception of the small units, the current iPods hold up to 80GB of music and video rather than 4 or 8. Given the exclusive deal with Cingular, the price of $500-$600 for the iPhone with a two year contract, and the yet to be announced service plan prices, may prove to make the iPhone a niche market device for the Paris Hilton crowd.

 

Third Party Applications Apple emphasized that the iPhone will use OS X – their Unix-based operating system found on the Mac. But what does this mean to the consumer? Not much, since you apparently will not be able to run your own applications on the iPhone. While “widgets†(mini apps) are supported, again, it’s not clear if you will be able to load them from third-party vendors or only from those supported by Cingular. Third party vendors, and especially the small independent developers are what has fuelled the Windows Mobile and PalmOS communities. If the iPhone is truly a closed device it will have a limited following.

 

Network Speed This is a high end device, yet Apple and Cingular have elected to only provide EDGE 2.5G data (and of course Wi-Fi). Not only does this make it seem outdated before it’s even released, given the fact that this is a highly visual device, it screams out for high bandwidth. Yes, the Safari browser looks great, but are the consumers for the iPhone going to be satisfied with the download speeds for web pages using EDGE? The iPhone is targeted to trendy users that will want to show it off. What’s going to happen when they are next to someone with much faster UMTS or EVDO? By the time the iPhone appears in June (or perhaps later) of this year, I expect to see other mobile phones with additional features and many with higher speeds.

 

Apple’s Legal Woes Apple has a few distractions at the moment. Perhaps the issue of the rights to the name iPhone (that Cisco claims is theirs) will go away, but it’s certainly a minor distraction that takes away some of the focus on the device itself. More important is the current investigation into Apple’s executive stock options. Apple has created a corporate image of being a company “for the rest of usâ€. If the stock scandal is perceived as showing that Apple is just another “big company†that benefits its executives at the expense of the little guy, it may not sit too well with Apple’s target market. In fact, because of Apple’s somewhat anti-establishment image, the impact would be far greater than for a company such as IBM or even Microsoft. And if it’s not cleared up before June, then expect any news of the iPhone to be peppered with talk about stock options for Steve Jobs.

So that covers about everything we currently know about the iPhone, but there’s still a lot of mystery that could make or break this device. So next I’ll have a look at a few things that Apple has been silent about...

The Omissions

  • Where’s the Voice Recognition?
    This one is the biggest mystery of all for me. It has been well publicized that Apple recently received a patent for speech recognition technology, yet this we not discussed as a feature of the iPhone. Perhaps it’s there and Jobs simply elected to hold off on discussing it for a variety of reasons such as: Speech recognition is one of the hardest things to demo to a large audience. All the background noise makes even the best voice input technology temperamental, or perhaps the voice input is one of the things that is still being perfected for the June launch, or maybe Apple is holding off on a number of feature announcements in order to “trickle†them out and keep the hype up until the launch date. In any case, having used Microsoft’s excellent Voice Command I would never again consider a mobile phone without speech input – especially one like the iPhone without any hardkeys.

 

Security Okay, so this is a device laser focused on the consumer market. But given the price, would expect a number of buyers that work for large corporations and require data security on their mobile devices. As corporations become more sophisticated in their support for mobile devices, they are also requiring capabilities such as “remote wipe†to allow them to clear sensitive data from lost or stolen devices. Apple has said nothing about this and if the iPhone does not provide for data security it will be limited to college students living off of trust funds and the Hollywood crowd.

 

Email Attachments While Apple emphasized the ability to read HTML email, they didn’t talk about reading email attachments. What about Word and Excel documents? Also, Pocket PC Phones have the ability to edit such documents and send them as email attachments as well.

 

Corporate Email Push Many companies have invested in proprietary email support clients such as that from RIM or Good (now part of Motorola), or simply use Microsoft’s Exchange Server’s built-in support for “push†email to Windows Mobile devices. Like the issues of security and attachment support, this is needed to allow the iPhone to be accepted by corporate users and not to be seen as simply an expensive toy.

Looking Ahead

Based on the features we know about, and in no small part due to Apple’s domination of the MP3 player market with the iPod, there’s no question that the industry is taking notice of the iPhone. But six months is a long time to wait and unlike with the iPod, Apple is entering a mature market with some heavy hitters such as Nokia, Sony/Ericsson and Microsoft. By the time the iPhone rolls out, we can certainly expect additional announcement from other players. Also, Apple has created such a build-up in expectations for the iPhone that any misstep could become a major setback.

Steve Jobs used the total mobile phone market of a billion units to indicate that they wanted to capture 1% by 2008 or 10M units. Considering that the market is dominated by cheap phones, that’s a huge expectation and one that I think Apple will be hard pressed to achieve.

In any case, there's no question that Apple's entry into the market will stir things up - and that's a good thing!

Jelpy,

Thank you for your detailed comments. I feel I should respond (so perhaps next time, you might consider my posts "great" )

  1. 3G: Note that I specifically was referring to the announced iPhone and not to some future model. I certainly agree that future models of the iPhone will provide 3G. However, this will cause the early adopters grief since they are locked into a $500-$600 phone for two years with slower data connections.
  2. Accelerometer: You missed the start of the paragraph where I stated: "There’s an accelerometer to detect when you rotate the iPhone..." The clause ""I assume that they are using an accelerometer rather than something based on gravity" did not end in a period (as you changed it) but rather focused on my speculation as to why they used that specific technology.
  3. Two Handed Operation: Most of the industry (not just me) believes this is important. Virtually every phone user has times when they need to make a call when one hand is not available: holding a briefcase, a baby, groceries, etc..
  4. One carrier: Don't assume that because Jobs is currently the reigning king of consumer electronics that he has control over mobile network providers. If anything, that is not an asset it’s a liability. Phone companies (especially in the USA) control their consumers. I have direct knowledge that Windows Mobile phone had issues with carrier acceptance specifically because the carriers were nervous about losing that control to Microsoft. Based on my experience with the mobile industry, I assume that, regardless of the potential of the iPhone, Apple had a difficult time getting any deals which is why Cingular was able to get a 2-year exclusive agreement and could lock out Verizon and Sprint.
  5. The price: Mobile phones (in the USA) are highly subsidized by the carriers. Since you will only be able to get an iPhone with a two year contract, that says the real cost would be closer to $650-$800. If anything, this seems low to me given the level of technology and amount of memory in the phone. I believe that the price is as low as it can be for a while (certainly time will reduce the cost) and Cingular is likely seeing it as a loss leader in order to gain subscribers. (I wonder if they will allow customers with time still on their current contract to extend it in June to get an iPhone, or if it will be for new subscribers only?)
  6. Success of the iPod: Yes, many so called “experts†said the iPod was too expensive, etc. I still believe that. None the less, the market grabbed them. But that only tells me they are a fad, a craze not too far from the Pet Rock of the 1970’s. Like all fads, nobody can reliably predict them, but all are at the mercy of a fickle public. Will the iPod craze last through the middle of this year? Or will the currently small backlash against iTunes grow? I don’t know, but it is an issue and if the public perceives that Apple is no longer “for the rest of us†but is instead now the top of the heap to be knocked down, the iPod’s success could be its own enemy.
  7. Corporate email push: You are not correct, this does require technology on both the phone and the mail server. This is why it took Microsoft until an upgrade to Windows Mobile 5.0 to catch up with Blackberry. It’s not enough for the server to try to push out the email, if the phone isn’t looking for it. And the phone has to be careful how it looks in order to not drain the batteries too fast. Having said that, as I noted, this is an unknown for the iPhone – perhaps it offers email push, we just don’t know yet.
  8. Sales projections: Actually, the 10M unit goal is much harder than I even indicated. The current “smartphone†market in the USA (including Blackberry, Symbian, Linux and Windows Mobile) is about half of that figure (but growing) for all carriers combined. There’s no question that the iPod managed sales that exceeded the total previous market for MP3 players, but that’s Apple’s only product that dominated its market. Will they be able to repeat that success with the iPhone? It’s possible, but certainly not a slam dunk. Note also that many iPod sales were to repeat customers that kept upgrading previous iPod models. With a two year contract with the purchase of an iPhone, this will not be possible. Not only will they not have repeat customers, they will have unhappy ones that bought early and won’t be able to get the latest model. This is a common issue for cellular carriers, but is new territory for Apple. It will be interesting to see how they handle it.

I look forward to watching the market in the months ahead.

David

Thank you Thierry for reminding me. I should post my thoughts on how the iPhone is doing soon. I will say that it's about where I thought: Certainly not a loser, but not the home run - as can be seen by the need for a fast $100 price reduction.

If anything, the price reduction is the greatest surprise to me: Although, I noted in my blog that I expected a price reduction at some point, I didn't think there was room for that big a price drop so soon.

I'll comment more in a future post.

Regards,
David

 SOME VERY IMPORTANT

 SOME VERY IMPORTANT QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS....

 

1:   Why would you even write a REVIEW if you state at the beginning that your opinion is going to be bias against a product(any review, not specifically an apple product).  The point of a review is to give UNBIASED pros and cons of a product, which isn't what you did. You are at this already.

 

2:   Most people with an IQ higher than 5 could EASILY tell you that in order to write a review that is complete and accurate, you should probably TRY OUT THE PRODUCT FIRST.... which you clearly stated you had not done. This makes me wonder how in the world you could make assumptions and opinions on features of a product you have never even used. (example: you claim the iphone is a ''2-handed device. I use mine all the time with only one hand including typing and the zoom feature.)

3:  more than 1/3 of the paragraphs in your review comment negatively about speculative apects of a company, when those topics have NOTHING to do with the product itself.

 

4: your ''review'' is EXTREMELY inaccurate and OUT OF DATE.... look at the ''missed'' section and you notice that you b*tch and moan about 3rd party apps being missing. HELLLOOOO??? I laugh at your lack of basic research and development on such a simple topic as i look up airport frequencies on my 3RD PARTY APP on my phone.

 

you get -10 out of 5. Good luck... next time you write a review, just print it out and throw it away because no one in their right mind could possibly think that you used more than half a brain cell writing this piece of crap report.

 

congratulations!!! you suck at life!!

 

the world's c*ck -->  8====D  ~; `; `;`' -     (0-:)   (your face ready for the money shot)

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