An iPhone Reality Check
Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on January 12, 2007
Apple’s announcement of the iPhone on Jan. 9 created a reality distortion field much stronger and longer lasting than normal, even for a Steve Jobs keynote. But now that things have settled down a bit, it’s clear that the iPhone faces some major challenges on the way to world domination.
Since I haven’t seen an iPhone other than in pictures, let alone use one, I’m holding off on any judgment on the insane greatness of the design. But still, some issues arise pretty much immediately:
The iPhone isn’t really a smart phone. I have a simple working definition of a smart phone. It’s a handset with an open operating system can load software of their choice without the cooperation or approval of the wireless carriers. Palm, Windows Mobile, Symbian, and, to a somewhat limited extent, BlackBerry devices qualify. The iPhone does not. As Apple vice-president Greg Joswiak told Mac World UK: “There is no opportunity right now for third-party development. Right now the opportunities are limited to the accessory market.”
No 3G wireless. This will be a nuisance in the U.S., but it will make the iPhone all but unsellable in Europe and Asia in its current form--the carriers simply won't accept advanced devices without a 3G radio. Apple apparently went with the slower EDGE technology because adding a 3G radio at this point would have forced them to make the phone thicker' there may also have been issues with battery life. It's not clear how soon single-chip radios will be available to let Apple add 3G capability in the current design.
10 million iPhones in a year? The reasonableness of this goal depends on context. The problem is that at least for the first six months or so, Apple will be selling only in the U.S. through Cingular (soon to be renamed AT&T Wireless.) Cingular has about 50 million customers, and maybe 5 million of them own high-end smart phones. The iPhone may be revolutionary, but just in arithmetic terms, 10 million is a staggering revolution.
What about the battery? One decision that clearly detracts from the brilliance of the design is the lack of a user-replaceable battery. This has been a problem with iPods and it will be worse with the phone. Wireless phone batteries live a tough life and it's not unusual for them to start losing their oomph after a year or so. When my Treo needs a new battery, I can replace it in seconds for $25-30; replacing an iPhone battery will run at least $100 plus it will have to be sent in for factory service. furthermore, heavy phone users don't leave home without a spare battery; a dead battery on your iPod is an annoyance while a dead battery on your phone can be a disaster. But the sealed design means a spare is not an option.
The iPhone as BlackBerry killer. for some reason, Jobs seems to think BlackBerry fans are the iPhone's target market. Nonsense. The BlackBerry is a business device that has found very limited appeal in the consumer world. The entertainment features of the most consumer-friendly BlackBerry, the new Pearl, are , not to put too fine a point on it, pathetic. People get BlackBerrys to get mail, specifically corporate e-mail. People are going to buy iPhones to get entertainment, with mail as a bonus. The products live in almost totally disjoint worlds. The iPhone may challenge some Treo, Windows Mobile, and Symbian (mostly Nokia) products, but its hardly a threat to BlackBerry.