iPhone Thoughts

10 Jan ’07

Yesterday’s iPhone announcement, which set off a media frenzy unparalleled even in the superlative-rich zone that is the Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field, was not the biggest news of the day. But here in the tech ‘tropolis, where (frankly) small thoughts assume disproportionate proportions, we were all sitting ducks for the raging torrent of sheer gadget-porn ecstasy that the iPhone unleashed. Even my ordinarily sensible friend Mathew has seemingly been smitten, and that’s no small feat.

And so as the news emerged, I was persistently berry’d with details, photos and stock quotes for Apple, RIM and Palm; even the quietest corner of Toronto’s largest park held no refuge yesterday during my daily dog walk. I was swept up in the news as well, and my first impression was very positive – not to detract from the many charms of the iPhone, but this is of course the first effect of the Jobs reality distortion field when product news is announced: immediate and unreasonably profound feelings of giddiness, near-elation and an almost insatiable desire to put one’s credit card to work. One nice feature that spoke to me about Apple’s cleverness: the Yahoo push IMAP service. Push IMAP has been available to those willing to work for it, of course, but it’s always mystified me that no mobile email device provider had made more of an effort to make this a no-brainer for its customers – what better way to bring enterprise-level email cross-platform availability and backup and to the average joe, and suck some of the air out of the traction that the Pearl is getting with the next tier of Blackberry customers? (why, after all, is IMAP never really fully functional on Blackberries?)

Thank goodness that this is a pre-announcement only, and that the iPhone, as Mathew says, will likely not make an appearance in Canada for a very long time – until well after the polar caps have melted, perhaps [Ed.: what, only 2040?]. For had it been on sale immediately I’m quite sure my soul would have been lost. Today, though, in the early hours of the day and with my synapses recovering from the distortion field, I’m wondering whether Apple got it quite right. Or at least, whether this is a device that I would ever buy. The very sensible Michael Gartenberg lays out the main reasons for my concern. No Office attachments and no extensibility means no sale, for me. And David Pogue’s admittedly short hands-on session earned a “difficult” from him in the typing department. Again, if that’s an issue, no sale for me. Finally – it’s bigger than I expected. For me the key product attribute of my Pearl is the size – just large enough to make the screen usable; just small enough to tuck away in a breast pocket. The iPhone’s size is there for the screen, of course, which is there for the media and the web. The Pearl has a media player, too, but I don’t use it, because I generally don’t carry music around with me – I mostly listen in the car, at home, or if on a walk, I have the pocket space for an iPod. And it has a browser, which is darned small, but mostly OK for my use. But again, the Pearl is much smaller than my Treo was, and the iPhone is larger – thinner, yes, but taller and wider. That’s probably no sale for me.

Last, I’m wondering who will buy this. Gadget porn freaks (and I say that with the greatest respect), obviously – this one will set the other cubicle-dwellers drooling, that’s for sure. But the Blackberry’s success has been built on enterprise customers who will likely stay away from the iPhone in droves, for obvious reasons (sure, some will carry both a BB and a phone – some do now – but I suspect that there will not be much interest in that group for a second brick to carry around). The iPod’s success has been built on the backs of kids – a natural fit for the iPhone’s features – but what about its price ($599 and a 2 year contract for 8 gigs)? This is a point that my friend Mathew raised early, and I think he may be right. That’s a lot of change, after all, for a device that forces you to leave behind almost your entire music collection – especially if you load the iPhone up with the photos and movies that you know you will, to show off that screen. And, of course, it’s going to look even more expensive 12 to 18 months after purchase, when many folks like to upgrade their phone to the newest technology and give the old one to a less gadget-obsessed friend.

So, after all is said and done – I’m not so sure. Smaller, cheaper and more memory – now that would be something.

Update: Ethan Kaplan has more questions. Dan Warne dislikes 10 things about the iPhone, but still plans on buying one. And over at O’Reilly, Phil Torrone thinks that extensibility will come.

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