Friday, January 19, 2007

iPhone: Innovation or Stagnation?

Oh, how my eyes lit up with childish delight when I saw the iPhone unveiled at Apples' Macworld expo (see the keynote here). The iPhone seemed like a turning point in the behind-the-curve (yet overpriced) American cell phone market. Finally, a phone that was powerful enough to run more than just 50KB applications, and an interface to cream over. The future is finally here.

Or is it?

Call me a nag, but after the initial wave of excitement subsided, reality came swooping back in. How much did this peripheral cost again? What provider is it toting with as its exclusive partner?

There were some painful realizations to be had after the spectacular abilities of the iPhone were displayed. The product itself is revolutionary- one of the first of its kind worldwide. (You can view a full [well, semi-full] list of the features here. I still recommend you watch the keynote to see these features in their full-blown, demonstrated glory.) However, some of the initial decisions Apple made by solely partnering with Cingular and pricing the 4GB version of the phone at $499 (8GB at $599) are probably ill-recommended for launch.

Yes, Cingular customers are loving it. However, I read recently in an article, as well as had acquaintances, that say Cingular is possibly the worst of the worst when it comes to cell phone providers. Not to mention, although Cingular might have the "fewest dropped calls" and "largest user base [in America]", it doesn't change the fact you're severely limiting your market when non-Cingular, tech-savvy folk who would normally adopt this early in its life... can't. However, perhaps this is Apple's way of saying "Thanks" to Cingular for its continued support and funding throughout the iPhone process. On the bright side, they should be servicing other cell providers in time.

Diverging from providers, there's this other little issue- the price. Does this price tag wax reminiscent of any other item? I'll give you a hint! It starts with Play, ends with Station, has a number, and flopped at launch (er, did I just show my loyalties?). Yep, $599 is quite a high price to pay-especially when this price includes a 2-year contract- but Apple is arguing that you're buying a Smartphone, iPod, and full-featured Internet browser. Man, it hurts my wallet just thinking about it.

The battery life is around average for cell phones, and pretty amazing considering the additional features the phone offers. One major downside to the iPhone, however, is the lack of a detachable battery. It's charge or die, folks. Like your iPod, unless you're around a docking station, the phone is toast. This could be a deal breaker for most business users, who might use up the entirety of the iPhone's battery power in just 1-2 calls. With any luck, Apple will figure out a solution to the 5-hour limit they're toting.

There are further gripes, like in ArsTechnica's article, but those are mostly tech-related and/or irrelevant to general consumers like myself. I'm all about drooling over new technology, but when I see great points being raised regarding possibly fatal iPhone weaknesses, I feel it's fair to share them. For Apple praise and feel-good news, please see CNN.

Finally, and to poke a little fun at Apple's attempt to enter the Asian market, most Asian countries seem a little less than enthralled with the iPhone after its initial release. It's flashy to them and all, but they can get phones with equal (if not better) features at a far less price- we're talking $100 or so (with plan). Quite a bit lower than Apple's introductory price of $499/599. Click a phone and take a look, even if it's moon-speak to you.

Despite the negative vibe of this post, I'm still extremely excited for the prospects of this cell phone. It'll finally kick the current manufacturers into gear, forcing them to innovate (haven't seen that in a few years, huh?). Small screens and crappy hardware no longer- Apple's bringing us into the world market full force, and Nokia, Samsung, Motorola (RAZR, your days are numbered!), and others best follow or see their stock prices dip into negative %-land.

If the greatness doesn't come via Apple, it's bound to come by someone else. So, I'll sit on the sidelines until next Christmas and see if this provider/pricing/battery issue has been ironed out (read: fixed in my favor). I recommend the same for you, of course, but you're free to spend your money, and get sucked into as many 2-year contracts, as you like.

Here's some additional photos, for your viewing pleasure:

Image Credit: - Many thanks for posting these. These images are possibly some of the best keynote camera caps available.

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