iPhone Reaction: Slick but Unwanted?

by Chris Seibold Jan 09, 2007

Apple Computer Incorporated revealed the iPhone, an unoriginal name for a very original product, just minutes ago at Macworld ‘07. The reaction of the crowd was enthusiastic after all the entire auditorium was bathed in the invisible but nearly palpable Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field.

The iPhone not only exudes the slickness that Apple is so well known for, but surpasses any previous iteration of any Apple device. What appears to be a solitary button mated to a screen is in really a very large button (the screen) and a home key. The most immediately useful thing about the button that is also a screen is the near infinite configurability for the future. This is a product that takes a long-term view and does not limit the ability of the product to grow with time. An interesting departure for a company who many feel actively discourage upgrades to ensure sales of a never ending stream of new Macs.

Unbelievably cool design aside the iPhone is at its heart a smart phone, replicating the functions of the current crop of smart phones (an ever-changing-never-satisfying lineup). In the past phones have balanced bulk and usability against a desire for svelte size and easy portability and the result was a constant battle of tradeoff. Reading emails was easier on the bulkier models, talking more convenient on smaller models. They were trade offs users had to accept if they wanted to play in the smart phone game.

The iPhone is still a thing of compromises, but these are beautiful compromises. Seeing the iPhone and comparing it to a current smart phone is like comparing the first amphibian that crawled from the primordial muck to Aphrodite. The interesting thing is that it took evolution hundreds of millions of years to go from barely land capable creature to the Greek ideal of beauty while Apple pulled it off in just 2 and a half years.

That said the iPhone has some non-trivial problems, not with the software, not with the GUI (Steve calls one way of manipulating images “pinching.” Not as bad as “squirt” but not great) but with the concept. Apple wants the iPhone to go huge, Steve argued that cell phones sold almost a billion units last year which dwarfs the market for iPods or even computers. Thing is that the iPhone won’t, at a $499 price point, be competing in the cell phone market. The iPhone will be competing in the smart phone market, a much smaller market indeed.

The numbers that quick Google search turns up are a market at about 1.3 million units. Apple is hoping for 10 million iPhones out the door in 2008 which means the company is counting on grabbing over 5% of the smart phone market (assuming projections are correct and the smartphone market continues to increase). Not impossible, in fact likely, but one is forced to wonder if the iPhone, unless changed, will forever to be tied to smart phone market.

And it is a problem if the iPhone is always a smart phone. To get an iPhone you’ll be forced to make a two-year commitment to Cingular (which is how long Cingular’s CEO seemed to talk without ever saying anything). That means iPod fiends that want a better movie watching experience are left out in the cold, if you desire to show your pictures in a larger format it is back to the TV for you and finally if you want the functions without the connectivity, no way brother.

A problem, but not a big as the biggest problem: the iPhone does a whole bunch of stuff no one wants to do. If one lament surfaces time and time gain about the cell phone it is that people want just a frickin cell phone. They don’t want to do anything but make calls. The iPhone is an elegant solution for calling but the battery sapping baggage that comes with it might chill the appeal for people who aren’t already on the smart phone bandwagon.

All that said, the only viable outcome for the phone is to at least rule the smart phone market with more than likely bleed over to the cell phone market. As the price drops and the phone is bundled with service contracts for an ever decreasing amount of cash, iPod sales will start being impacted but they will take the sales of the Zune popular .mp3 players along for the ride. In short, Apple seems to have pulled off iPod 2.0. All hail the new gadget masters!



  • I disagree Scott, I think there is a lot of room for improvement in the low-end, just like there was with the iPod. But I think Steve wanted to shoot high for the first release of the iPhone, to solve all the bigger problems. But I do see a cheaper, non-video based phone in the future.

    Beeblebrox, on this point I couldn’t agree more. This is Macworld after all. I think the iPhone announcement is a big deal for Apple but a bumped up mac or two would of been nice…and oh yeah, Leopard.

    Hadley Stern had this to say on Jan 09, 2007 Posts: 114
  • Something else to think about:

    Does coolness have a six month shelf life?

    The wait time is enormous.
    The wait time is ridiculous.

    Lots can happen in the tech world between here and then.

    koreyel had this to say on Jan 09, 2007 Posts: 22
  • Lets hope it’s a good data plan then eh.

    Benji had this to say on Jan 09, 2007 Posts: 927
  • I use my Nokia as a PDA. It’s not great, but it syncs well and lets me see my calendar & address book. I can enter new appointments & contacts though it’s through the keypad (so it’s slow - but it’s still useful). It cost me <$150 on contract.

    I don’t know how good the iPhone will feel as a phone. It is certainly expensive! It’s not 3G (which everyone is pushing now - much cheaper for the networks and eventually us!). And, from what I can see, I can’t enter new contacts or appointments. That combination is… deadly. Unfortunately… because I think it looks great smile

    I would like to see an iPod-Nano style phone with a slide out keypad that I can type on. That is the killer phone for me. In essence, I don’t need the full touch screen or the processing power that goes with playing movies etc.

    Wasn’t there a rumour of 2 iPhones? One simple, the other a real PDA killer?

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Jan 09, 2007 Posts: 228
  • Here and in a lot of European countries you buy your phone independently of the provider. So I see Inc. picking up more than 1% over-here.
    One of the most incredible oversights in mobiles is the market of the elderly who simply can’t dial a number because the buttons are too small and can’t read the sms. Also people who are in their eighties like my folks have trouble with the interfaces.
    I have a feeling this phone will actually fill in that gap.
    If your aiming at 1% market share then the price is not an issue. The first TVs were overpriced, the video-recorder, I remember the first philips cd-player was more than 1000$, the MacPlus was overpriced, iPods were called overpriced, and with iTunes it was considered absurd that people would actually pay for songs “they could download for free”.
    But just as with the first cd-players, I couldn’t afford at that time, the feeling was, that this was it. Technology had reached one of these points of no return.

    WAWA had this to say on Jan 09, 2007 Posts: 89
  • If you get a chance, watch the Keynote… This thing is gonna be on backorder for months.

    xwiredtva had this to say on Jan 09, 2007 Posts: 172
  • 01. Low End iPhone?

    How could Apple improve on existing low-end phones? Apple’s strength is combining existing and new technologies to create innovative products though better design. You can only do so much with the existing technology in low-end phones available today. New technologies, such as touch screen displays and mobile processors that can run OS X, are expensive.

    Currently, I have a T610 from Sony Ericsson. It’s not much in the way of features, but I like the design, it syncs great with my Mac and, overall, is very easy to use. Had I wanted to buy another non-smart phone, I would have bought a Sony Ericsson K790a several months ago. While I realize I’m not a typical consumer, I think companies such as SE, Nokia and even Motorola are putting out decent entry-level handsets. While they could be improved, I don’t think Apple can make enough of an improvement to be worth their while.

    What makes the iPhone unique is the combination of phone, internet and iPod functionality with a rich, virtual, touch-screen UI. A smaller screen wouldn’t offer enough real-estate for virtual controls and the rich UI is dependent on OS X and a fast processor that can run it. Sure, you can drop the amount of storage to 1GB, but you’ve still be left with a $399 device. Not exactly what I’d conceder a “nano” version of the iPhone.

    02. “It’s stranger still that there was no mention of any Mac products at MACWorld.”

    Apple wants to focus all eyes on the iPhone and Apple TV. Releasing additional products or technologies at Macworld would only dilute the coverage they’ll receive in the press. Apple TV available next month and this year’s Macworld is the best forum for the iPhone before applying for FCC approval. It’s really a smart move on their part.

    And, as mentioned in the keynote, Apple is now just Apple, not Apple Computer. If Macworld is unhappy with the lack of Mac product announcements in this year’s keynote, I’m sure they’ll ask someone else to headline next year.

    Scott had this to say on Jan 10, 2007 Posts: 144
  • “It’d be nice if they were to allow for video capture with that 2 mega-pixel camera though.”

    I agree. While I haven’t seen any sample photos from the iPhone, Sony Ericsson has several phones with advanced camera features, including a very bright flash. Video recording / calling and support for faster data networks, such as HSDPA/UMTS/EVDO, would have been nice as well.

    Hopefully these issues will be address in the next revision.

    Scott had this to say on Jan 10, 2007 Posts: 144
  • Upgrading and adding features will be a snap.

    No physical buttons.

    Just touch screen buttons.

    When Apple offers new features, a simple software download can update the features, and add buttons to the UI.

    Joseph P Dorodo had this to say on Jan 10, 2007 Posts: 1
  • How could Apple improve on existing low-end phones?

    Even the Applefanatic-challenged imagination should be able to come up some simple answers to this question.  I have a “low-end” phone that takes pictures and has internet access (HORRIBLY implemented, terribly slow, and outrageously expensive even when it does work).

    I use my phone primarily to make calls and store phone #s.

    So take out the iPod with it’s unusable (for me) storage capacity and separate battery, and leave me with the phone and touch-screen interface and maybe the internet, although truth-be-told I could live without that if the price were right.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jan 10, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • To answer the question, “Why no Macs or Leopard at Macworld ‘07???”, one has to realize that this stage did not belong to the Mac or Leopard. Those celebs will have to stage their appearances at later events, I’m sure.

    This spotlight belonged to the much rumoured, much derided, and very celebrated, all at the same time, iPhone! Those clueless pundits that repeatedly swore its non-existence, show your very faces and be egged to oblivion. You know who you are…

    Ahem…so while the Mac and Leopard was amiss in this great event, the iPhone is a very stripped-down Mac and Leopard at its core (minimal, but OSX at heart).

    Do you guys realize what that means? All developers (and not just OSX devos, mind you) must be rejoicing that finally a mobile handset has been blessed with the greatest and friendliest of all development environment - Cocoa & Java Frameworks, Core Video-Audio-Data APIs, etc. This has got to be the the most exciting thing about the iPhone (besides its cool looks and user interface paradigms).

    Core OSX allows the iPhone to be very flexible and can mutate whenever Apple and the market decides the current iteration becomes a bore.

    Core OSX will attract many Symbian/BREW developers to jump ship once this thing starts to take off (as expected). As for us freelance devos, let’s hope Apple will release an ADC-type license for this blessed device. I for one can’t wait to have one on my sweaty palms.

    Robomac had this to say on Jan 10, 2007 Posts: 846
  • Apple’s solution to the phone usability problem was to create a whole new portable computing platform that runs a mobile version of OS X and programmed it to control a cellular radio. It’s also flexible enough to solve the wide screen iPod “problem”, the internet communicator “problem”, and many other “problems” that Apple has yet to announce. (remote controls, GPS, gaming, third-party widgets, etc.) 

    Regardless of the feature sets supported, there are costs inherent to the basic architecture of this platform, such as the screen, processor, RAM, power management, etc. The same CPU that drives the iPod storage and playback controls the cellular radio and runs internet applications, like Mail and Safari. The same touch screen that lets you scroll through your music tracks lets you input a phone number and click on webpages.

    While I’m oversimplifying the work that went into the iPod component of the iPhone for illustration purposes, essentially removing a internal CF card reader and storage media isn’t going to dramatically lower the cost of the device. You still need power management, audio output, volume controls, on - off switches, etc.

    The platform and software that runs on it *is* the innovation. Without it, your left with yet another “low-end” phone constrained by it’s own form factor.

    Scott had this to say on Jan 10, 2007 Posts: 144
  • The idea that Apple MUST create a kitchen-sink device or nothing doesn’t give them much credit. 

    Every other company somehow manages to come out with a cutting-edge device and a lower-end feature-deprived counter-part.  Many times, they are the EXACT same hardware with firmware that disables some features, meaning that the “high-end” features are profit gravy.

    Anyone can tell me why this can’t be done while conveniently, and unoriginally, defending whatever decisions Apple has chosen to make, but I want to know how something CAN be done to appeal to the 99% of the market currently left out by the iPhone.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jan 10, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Seeing the iPhone and comparing it to a current smart phone is like comparing the first amphibian that crawled from the primordial muck to Aphrodite -  CS

    I’m offended, CS! Yet, deep within, I can visualize what you meant. After all, true Mac afficionados do have a visual and creative trait.

    I am currently holding a G1 color Palm smartphone and I-AM-DUE for a replacement. I also hold honors of owning the first color iPod and G1 nano.

    So, finally I can wrap all these inseparable devices (I use them all, thank you) into one magical device that I have been preaching and praying Apple to design and produce. Thanks to the engineering gods of Cupertino, our prayers have been answered.

    The G1 iPhone do have one limitation - CDMA. Although GSM is the world’s cellular standard, it isn’t 3G. GSM + EDGE is G2.5 in wireless cellular lingua franca. UMTS (also called WCDMA) is GSM’s 3G replacement.

    So, why CDMA? For one, it is the most pervasive cellular protocol in North America, major parts of South America, Korea, and Hong Kong. Japan is fully entrenched with WCDMA/UMTS for almost a decade now. That makes these countries, the majority of $$$ holders per capita for any fledgling device.

    So, is Apple eyeing a European stampede for the iPhone??? I do doubt that. I have recently been on an East Asian trip and do see a strong GSM tie-in there, although the majority of the people may not even know (or care) what the G-S-M moniker stands for (French or Anglicized editions).

    The potential is there but most folks I observed were not using their phones as a “phone” but more as primitive text messaging devices. They treat their phones as pagers with keypads. They hardly made voice calls, if ever.

    So, to not offer 3G CDMA or UMTS, Apple is only offering GSM+EDGE because of its nature as the “world standard”. Whether it is not the speed record holder or the slickest in call hand-offs (useful when driving and fielding calls, at the same time, mind you) GSM offers the LCF in cellular protocol.

    I for one would want UMTS/WCDMA implemented in the future. CDMA2000 may not get supported unless a chipset that supports both 3G flavors come out. There was a project inside Qualcomm’s QCT to support all 2.5 and 3G protocols back in early 2000 (I was there). Texas Instruments can also come out with a hybrid chip since they have a broad license covering both 3G variants.

    Robomac had this to say on Jan 10, 2007 Posts: 846
  • The platform and software that runs on it *is* the innovation. -Scott

    100% agree. Core OSX (my coinage since Apple is only claiming “OSX” which is obsurdly impractical) is the genius behind the slick user interface. Without it I can’t think of how the current iPod OS can support a   preemptive, multitasking environment that the iPhone urgently requires.

    Back to my coinage, Core OSX describes a miniscule version of the desktop OSX that we have dearly loved since Jaguar. How “core” is the iPhone’s OSX is up to Apple to disclose in the future when they open the system for independent developers, like us. For now, Core OSX goes in-line with current Apple naming conventions of their “Core” APIs that surely is withing the iPhone enclosures. For those same APIs allow Coverflow and Dashboard to exist fluidly in the iPhone.

    Robomac had this to say on Jan 10, 2007 Posts: 846
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