The buzz from tech-heads over last week’s Consumer Electronics Show was easily drowned out by the enthusiastic sighs over Apple’s new iPhone – the long anticipated cell phone/iPod hybrid that CEO Steve Jobs announced at the company’s annual unveiling of new products.
While the new device has many — including Point Art Director Shaun Lambert — ready to abandon their individual phones and music players, others remain skeptical about whether the time, or the price, is right. That’s where News Editor M. Patricia Titus comes in. So, here’s our take on two views of the new iPhone.
By M. Patricia Titus
Shaun, I have to say I love the concept of the iPhone, but I don’t think it’s quite ready for prime time.
We’ve both raved about our iPods on these pages in the past year. And you and I both within the last year bought new combination cell phone devices, both with full PDA functions under the Windows Mobile operating system. Point Editor Darin McCann also went for a combo device, opting instead to continue his association with the Palm OS in his PDA/phone.
All three of us have been delighted with our individual devices, which all play music, in addition to their phone and PDA functions. And in each case, we keep our iPods close at hand. The proverbial Holy Grail has remained the device that combines all three functions.
Notably, in none of these cases did we end up with a phone that doesn’t have any physical keys, such as is the case with the iPhone. But both of us have side-sliding QWERTY keyboards on our latest phones instead of number pads, and even that has proven to me to be a small, if acceptable, inconvenience when trying to dial the phone — especially while multi-tasking.
I imagine both of us — and many of our readers — are familiar with the difficulty of trying to operate an iPod’s touchpad controls without paying full attention to the task. I can’t imagine trying to control the touchscreen dialing on the new iPhone without giving it my full attention. I wouldn’t want to rely upon it to call 911 under stress.
It also throws a major wrench into the ability to send text messages, since most who do that regularly rely upon the feel of the keys — QWERTY or number pad — for both speed and any texting while the screen is out of view. Despite Apple’s promotion of the touchscreen mini-QWERTY keyboard for texting, which they say is superior thanks to software innovations, I’m just not buying it.
Maybe Apple just doesn’t want us to dial while we’re driving or under the desk at school. That’s it — it’s a public service feature… Seriously, though, I can’t even imagine being a blind user, who at least could get use of phone, music and texting in a device equipped with some sort of physical keyboard.
I’ve also got to take issue with Apple’s continuing reliance on built-in, non-removable batteries. They’ve had major problems with this issue from the first iPods on. And while battery life has improved, they rely upon good battery maintenance techniques from users to live up to their potential and don’t allow for improvements in battery technology to pay off for prior purchasers.
That’s a significant flaw in a music player, but it’s a huge failing in a cell phone. You don’t want to have to send your cell phone back to the manufacturer in a year or so to have the battery replaced — especially not when the phone cost $500 and it’s also your music player and PDA. And there are no local Apple stores for quick repairs. You just don’t give up your cell phone for a week or more to have a battery replaced. You buy a new battery.
Apple seems to want to treat their players as disposable, with the implied suggestion to buyers to just buy the latest one rather than fork out for a new battery and be without their device for a week or so. A lot of people do this already, but I’m not a fan of the business model and it’s unfriendly enough to the lower-end consumer that it’s a plain ol’ poke in the eye to any who would save up for the iPhone as their dream device.
Battery life is also an issue, because if you’re using a device for three or four functions you have to be able to use it for all those day-to-day functions without plugging it in several times a day. Five hours of talk time, with no option for a back-up battery to be plugged in? Not smart.
Apple has, however, gone forward smartly with a number of the iPhone’s features, such as allowing access to voicemails by caller, at will, without having to listen to them in order. And the integration of mapping and directions is a forward-looking part of the new wave of phone functions. Even the better integration of Internet features is a plus that speaks to the future of phones.
However, they’re stuck in the past — or at least the present — in failing to allow for 3G cell phone technology that is the current standard in most of the world and the ongoing future of most carriers. It’s not everywhere yet, including here, but it’s coming and new phones should plan ahead, not be stuck in the past.
The same goes with a 2-megapixel camera while new phones often sport 5-megapixel models these days. And they’re rejecting the serious music fan in only hitting 8GB of memory max, with no expansion port. A mini-SD port could add 2GB of music, photos or video, or even peripheral devices. And I’m not going to pick among my 19 GB of music as to what one of three songs to put on my phone. There’s none on there now. It’s all on my iPod.
But I also give major props to Apple for the new touchscreen interface on the device for its music and video functions, as well as to the new widescreen display. People have been buzzing over the potential for a widescreen, touchscreen-controlled iPod for more than a year now — with good reason. As much as Apple advanced electronics controls with the iPod touchpad, they’ve leaped forward in a great new direction with this device.
And there’s no question but that further integrating a great piece of software and a smart business model like iTunes in the portable realm is another move forward for Apple. But even there they missed out, because there’s no live iTunes on the phone, no ability to purchase and play on the go – just the ability to play music already purchased or on your desktop computer.
Unfortunately, most importantly among what Apple has failed to acknowledge in this design is the impact on the latest and most distinctive function — that of a cell phone.
Truth be told, there have been two major innovators in the small-device consumer electronics market in recent years: Apple with the iPod and RIM with the Blackberry. Both rethought how device control and function should be and came up with entirely new ways of doing things that have been a natural hit with consumers because they’re simple, intuitive and functional, as well as design-forward.
The Blackberry’s mini-QWERTY keyboard transformed life for those who might previously have sent an e-mail or text message on their phone’s number pad, and the device further did so with the push e-mail that is becoming the new standard and shows up in the iPhone.
But Apple missed out on business-quality e-mail by defaulting to the push service from Yahoo and they failed to take the logical innovation of the Blackberry keyboard to heart with the new iPhone, instead opting to stick with its slick interface and acknowledged edge in pure design beauty.
A phone is a functional item, well beyond even a music player, which is at heart a device of leisure time. It should look good, but it’s more important that it function well. Absent the design element, you’ve got a decent phone. Absent the function, you’ve got a music player that can take and make the occasional call. I’ve had the same thing said about my PDA phone, but it’s a matter of degrees. At least my phone has a physical keyboard and easy voice dialing, as well as all its other features.
The previous iteration of the iTunes phone, Motorola’s RAZR V3i, never took off as one might have expected — simply because it didn’t inspire the same devotion as the first RAZR did for phone fans or as the iPod has for music lovers with high design ideals. That’s why the concept of the iPhone has been a tech darling for years. But, while this device is beautiful, and functions wonderfully as a portable media player, it fails that phone function test.
Frankly, I’m also keen on the abilities of my Windows Mobile-enabled phone, where I can sync with Outlook without thinking about it, read or write a Word document, quickly check an Excel spreadsheet and much, much more. The iPod now has games, but not nearly as many as available for Windows Mobile devices and almost no third-party applications at all. These are areas where Apple has yet to step up to the plate.
I can’t cram 8GB of music onto my phone or watch widescreen video on my current iPod, but the bottom line for me on the iPhone is that it’s not my dream device — at least not yet. And it’s not a device I’m looking to buy now, not at $500 or $600 with a long-term phone contract, and maybe not at half that price.
When Apple manages to cram a real QWERTY keyboard into the device, when it wakes up to the realities of battery use, when it ramps up memory to into the 30GB range or adds expansion options, when it updates its phone network choice and adds more carrier options, and when the price comes down below $400 — then, I’ll think about it. For now, I’m looking forward to seeing some of the innovations of the new iPhone make their way into the next-generation iPods.
By Shaun Lambert
Tricia, I have to say that I also love the concept of the iPhone, but I disagree with you on its readiness. It is ready for primetime and brings to the table many new technologies that will have other phone manufacturers scrambling to implement copycat features. While I will say that there is definitely room for improvement, the concept, and from what we’ve seen so far the execution, is wonderful. Let me break it down like this:
The iPhone is without a doubt going to stir up the way that mobile phones are perceived and used. Whether or not it’s ready to replace other SmartPhone devices remains to be seen, as the phone’s software is not finished, and Apple hasn’t even announced any hardware specs for the phone besides a few technologies it will use. So who’s to say what can and will be changed by the launch time in June 2007. All that’s been announced is the major features, most of which are software features that I feel sure will change by launch time.
Apple is going to take the cellular world by storm, and it’s only going to gain momentum as Apple releases new phones and expands on their entry into the mobile market. Remember, the iPod didn’t take off overnight. Apple released it to a small user base (Mac users), and it grew from there.
As the iPod was refined, along with iTunes, Apple released iTunes for Windows and then the walls came crashing down. The iPod was and is a huge hit. On that basis, I predict that Apple will become a major player in the mobile industry in the coming years.
What we do know thus far is that it will feature new technologies, including MultiTouch screen controls on a 3.5-inch widescreen format. The screen is a high resolution (320-by-480 at 160 ppi) screen. The phone will run some sort of watered down version of OS X, will come with 4GB or 8GB of built-in flash memory, quad-band GSM (it will work on any GSM network worldwide), built-in Wi-Fi, EDGE and Bluetooth 2.0+ EDR. And it will come with a 2.0 megapixel camera.
The text and numeric entry will be handled by an on screen keyboard and numeric pad. It is speculated that the iPhone battery will not be user-replaceable, a major downside, but it also speculated that Apple and Cingular will be able to replace it in their respective stores. So, hopefully, it won’t be as bad as the whole iPod battery fiasco.
I am disappointed in Apple’s decision to go with EDGE on their entry phone instead of 3G, but 3G technology just simply isn’t yet available to most places outside of major metropolitan areas. I’m told that in our area we won’t get it until May/June at the earliest. So this isn’t a total deal breaker for me now. My current phone has 3G capability, and I pay an arm and a leg for the unlimited PDA Extreme package at Cingular but have yet to test out 3G speeds.
Another concern floating around the Web, and brought up by you, Tricia, is whether or not the input method will work as advertised. I already use touchscreen a lot with my Cingular 8525, and find that it can be quite difficult with finger usage; but, again, my screen and OS software is designed to be used with a stylus, with very little work put in to make it more finger-friendly.
I have no doubt that Apple has improved this by leaps and bounds for their iPhone. I am not concerned with being able to text while driving — because honestly, you shouldn’t be — but dialing could prove to be a little more difficult. But I don’t dial numbers on my phone anyways. If the number isn’t in my contacts, I stop to dial, period.
I use Microsoft Voice Command on my current mobile and it comes in quite handy, as I can just tell my phone to dial a contact or even a number. It’s better than using the touchscreen, and I imagine that Apple will either include this feature at release, shortly after release, or at the very least in an upcoming model.
As for text entry, even with an actual QWERTY keyboard on my phone, I still have some problems typing with it, enough to make me want to keep an eye on what’s typed, so I can quickly fix any mistakes. It took me a couple of days of usage to get used to it. I’m sure there will be a bit of a learning curve with the new touchscreen, but I can’t imagine it being that much worse than the mini-QWERTY on my current phone.
As far as I have heard, the applications — at least to start — will be solely written by Apple for the phone. While this may downgrade the value of the phone as a whole, at least to power-users, I don’t think this will hurt Apple at the start. I think that Apple is going more for the consumer-level user with the phone, not the business/power user. I am also confident that, over time and probably with newer models, this will change. Apple will open up the DevKit and allow third party developers to create applications for the device.
While the phone may be a little expensive at $499 or $599, depending on the model, what innovative product isn’t at its unleashing? And when compared to other offerings, it seems the cost is well worth it.
When my wife and I started our contract with Cingular, she purchased one of Sony-Ericsson’s Walkman phones at a price around $450, not including the mail-in rebate. She was in love with the design of the phone, more so than the features — which, when compared to the iPhone, are seriously lacking. It shipped with 256MB phone memory, and a 1.3 megapixel camera. Pretty lame when compared with Apple’s offering.
As Apple comes out with new models, the previous models will surely drop in price and the new phones will continue to innovate and stimulate the mobile industry as a whole. Remember, this is just the first offering coming from Cupertino, and I’m interested to see what’s coming in the future, especially for the power user.
As for the built-in battery, at this point we mainly have speculation. It did appear that the battery was built-in in Steve Jobs’ keynote address. The latest reports have it that it is built-in and that it possibly could be replaced at any Cingular or Apple store. If it is a built-in battery, I sincerely hope it can be replaced at any of these stores. But, more so, I agree with you and I hope that it is user-replaceable. This was a major shortcoming in the iPod and caused a big uproar, and I also hope Apple has learned from those previous mistakes.
I think Apple has it right to begin with 4GB and 8GB models, the same capacity as their fastest-selling iPod ever, the Nano. In my opinion, this is a consumer phone and it should feature what the consumers want. A phone and an iPod, and a very portable one at that. With a flash memory player, you can’t beat the size and style factor of the iPhone.
My current phone officially will handle up to 2GB microSD cards, only half of that of the lowest iPhone, and it shipped with 64MB SDRAM built-in, no microSD card was included. Luckily, I happened to have a 512MB from my Motorola ROKR lying around. Heck, I can’t even get Windows Media Player to recognize that I have files on my expansion card or get the playlists to function correctly. I have to individually tap the music files to listen to each song one at a time. The iPhone will solve this problem without question.
All this writing and we still haven’t gotten into the full Web browser, Safari, and the rich HTML e-mail included with the phone. You’ve covered the cool new voice-mail feature, so I won’t get into that. Safari brings for the first time, at least to my knowledge, a full-featured Web browser to the mobile market. And with the Multi-touch screen, Apple reinvents the way we will surf the Web on mobile devices.
When browsing the web, the full page will appear on screen and with a double tap, or a pinching motion on any area of the page, Safari will zoom right in on exactly what you want to view. You have to see it to believe how simple it is. And even navigating while browsing is so much easier, no more scroll bars, just a tap and drag and you’ll move it like you would a sheet of paper.
Apple brings what it calls a rich HTML mail client, which I assume means it uses RichText to send out e-mails and can view HTML coming in from desktop clients, much like Apple’s Mail.app for their desktop machines. Photos are viewable inline, meaning inside the mail message, and not as an attachment you have to open in a separate application.
I would think it wise of Apple to include a mobile version of iWork for opening and editing those Word and Excel files, as this could sway a lot of business users toward the iPhone. This will be as easy as adding a software upgrade, if it not available at launch.
At this point, I would not be giving up my 5G 30GB iPod, but I don’t carry that around everywhere. I mainly use it in the car and while I’m doing monotonous-type things like exercising. I do however carry my phone everywhere I go, so it’ll be nice to be able to have a decent amount of songs carried with me wherever I may be, just in case I forget my iPod. Even at 4GB, it’s more than enough for those unexpected detours that life throws our way.
In a nutshell, this device begins Apple’s takeover of the mobile industry. The first iteration of the iPhone is sure to be a hit in the consumer market. And who knows what we’ll see in the future? Regardless, it’s sure to shake things up even more than it’s first offering.