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Musings on Apple's iPhone

01/10/07 | by Adam | Categories: iPhone

Link: http://www.apple.com/iphone/phone/

Unless you've been living under a rock or intensely ignoring the internet and all other media over the last few days, you know about Apple's new iPhone. Time Magazine has a good write up on its genesis. David Pogue of the New York Times also has some commentary. CNN's Fortune has an interesting article on how Apple tried to keep the whole thing under wraps for the MacWorld unveiling despite large numbers of contributors.

As for me, will I be waiting in line for one? Dunno really, but at the moment I doubt it. More than anything else, I'd need to play with it first: Apple is notorious for imbedding valuable UI features in their software that simply don't appear until use, regardless of the quality of the documentation. The iPhone looks great, albeit extremely pricey. I like the iPod integration, but with the recent arrival of the Sansa e280 to the household, that's less of a motivator than it was a couple of weeks back. The calendar and contacts lists both look well done on the iPhone, but my Palm Tungsten does that properly now. And it already syncs the data nicely across multiple operating systems. The video support on a decent sized screen is really the only thing I'm currently lacking but I can't find any information on whether it'll only play video downloaded from the iTunes store or whether it's a bit more open than that.

The Bluetooth support in the iPhone is a requirement. One of my standard complaints about smartphones generally is that they have the shape of the PDA and the usage requirements of a cellphone. The result is that they end up sucking at both (ever watch anyone using a Blackberry to talk?) The iPhone shares the same dimensions (albeit a bit thinner) as the smartphones so this complaint stands. A Bluetooth headset offloads the need to hold this ungainly rectangle to your ear and means that the telecoms device no longer needs to be in hand, just nearby. In addition this also addresses one of the problem of cellphones which is that it's very hard to navigate touchtone menus when the thing is pressed up against your ear; Apple's done a interesting design here in making the voicemail list visible on screen as well although it required Cingular to redesign their backend to support it. The iPhone is also the only way -- as of June -- that you'll be able to listen to an iPod and use a cellphone on wireless headphones without buying a third party adaptor.

The wifi? It's not something that makes me go "wow" but I can see the appeal of using a hotspot for email or web browsing on the road and bypassing the cellular provider altogether. As noted in the Time article, it's not used for iTunes data syncing nor can it be used to install new programs or data directly so it's of limited value for anything else.

What of the system integration offered by the iPhone? You no longer need to carry along a separate phone, PDA and MP3 player. Oddly enough, I don't object to having to do that. I like having each of my devices with their own battery so draining one doesn't result in the others stopping. The announced PDA functions of the iPhone are limited to what's typically in an existing phone but with the underlying OSX I would expect it can and will be extended. With Bluetooth support, the devices don't need to be on a belt or pocket so size ceases to be an issue. The single point of charging is a good thing which having the independent devices lacks but that hasn't been a problem for me, other than a need to carry around another couple of USB cables (I could quite happily rant about vendors refusing to use a nice generic mini-USB connector for power and data transfer instead of all their custom sockets, but I'll save that for later.) My Nokia 6310i rarely leaves my satchel and with a week's worth of battery life only gets plugged in once a week to a USB charger.

I'm more than a little concerned about the phone aspect: I don't know how good its reception will be; I don't know what the real world talk time is; I don't know if it can be unlocked or if the SIM card can be exchanged for roaming purposes.

Canada's sole GPRS provider, Rogers Telecom's extortionate GPRS charges make the mobile data aspect of it quite unpalatable even if it were not tied to the US's Cingular network. By way of contrast my Palm Tungsten uses a proxy based browser that resamples and downscales all webpages before they get sent to the PDA. The Safari browser on the iPhone is the full deal which means it's great for compatibility but not so wonderful for size. As the average webpage is several megabytes these days while the Tungsten's reformatted one is a couple of kilobytes at most, that's a very significant different in terms of size, speed and ultimately cost. The iPhone has several other shiny internet features such as GoogleEarth and the weather widgit; those are no doubt going to be bandwidth hogs too. Suffice to say, the internet features of the iPhone are going to be too expensive to use here in Canada under the current cellular pricing structures. Where something with the data capacity of the iPhone would be particularly useful -- while roaming outside of Canada -- it would be even more costly. This isn't the fault of the iPhone, but it does nullify one of its strongest selling points. (Update: I'm not the only one commenting on this aspect.)

Not being a resident of the USA I wouldn't be one of the first to pick it up anyway, but this is a piece of kit I'm quite happy to let someone else be on the bleeding edge for. If someone offered me one (and paid my data bills) I certainly wouldn't refuse it though.


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