"The iPhone starts another yet another Apple revolution, the fourth…"
So says the oracular Steve Jobs, in his usual,
understated fashion. And, yes, the Apple ][, the Macintosh and the iPod are the first three
hits on his résumé.
With Pixars’s success, with a dazzlingly successful second tenure as Apple’s Great Helmsman, with more than ten years of revenue and profit growth, Steve has more credibility than ever.
Yet, the kommentariat think he's crazy: Too expensive, nobody will buy a $599 phone!
Bitterness, jealousy? Or serious trouble?
Better said right at the outset: I’d
love to see the iPhone become yet another Apple obscene success. But I see two serious obstacles on the
road to stardom:
. Typing one’s e-mail on a touchscreen.
. No Blackberry-like synchronization.
Let’s start with price. On the surface, this is the easier
issue. Unfortunately, cell phone
carriers and airlines use the same sadistic consultants: How else can we
explain the byzantine complexity of their pricing games?
Let’s simplify a little bit. Basic phones are essentially free and so-called smart phones can be had for $150 to $250. These prices involve a carrier subsidy in exchange for my being manacled for two.years.
Now, if I look for Nokia phones on Amazon, the high-end N91 goes for a mere $688 “unlocked”. The latter term means unsubsidized, untethered to a particular (GSM) carrier.
The N80 goes for $545, unlocked as well; the Internet Tablet PC N770 sells for $339.
The Nokia 8800, closest to the iPhone feature list (camera, music player) retails for $788.
Of course, slip into something less comfortable, the above mentioned manacles, and you have similar phones for hundreds less.
Sony Ericcson? No surprises, $699 for an unlocked P990, $0.01 for a W300i, yes, one cent, "You save $399.98" says Amazon -- you know how.
A Motorola Q Phone is $124.99, saving $275 with a pair of bracelets. And so on with every brand.
My freedom for a plate of minutes. Beside that established exchange, a
factoid is worth of note: the philanthropists at Amazon offer a wide range of unlocked
phones. There is a market for
freedom, obviously, but is it large enough to accommodate the 10 million units number agitated by Apple? (Just 1% of a billion units market, you
To the skeptics, the iPhone looks like the worst of both worlds: $599 with a two-year AT&T/Cingular contract. Expensive captivity.
Are the critics right, will the iPhone fail because of its price?
Not solely. Consider how much is spent on a car stereo, a set of fancy alloy rims, a Rolex watch? And how many of these are sold? If other conditions are met, see the pros and cons below, there is ample evidence humans from age 15 to 75, regardless of gender, are willing to spend.
Let’s look more closely at the reasons and
unreasons to buy an iPhone.
Unreasonable: No one needs an iPod, I just want one. And, as with many objects of desire that illuminate our lives, or enslave us, I rationalize. Unreasonable reasons.
No one needs a Louis Vuitton bag or, rather, the bag fulfills different class of needs: self-expression, belonging, quest for approval, admiration. A highly loaded (with money) range of unreasons.
Reasonable: function, fitness to purpose, reliability. Safer, more socially acceptable.
Let's start with how
the what is delivered:
October 23rd, 2001, the iPod comes out. Another MP3 player? No way.
In 2007, the iPod way rules. The iPod is an icon for the how, for the way it delivers music, not for the feature list, not for the enumeration of what it does.
To Apple's thinking today's smartphones are "dumbed-up", handicapped by feature overload and poor UI. The iPhone comes to the rescue with a grand simple ambition: to be the iPod of smartphones.
Then we have the magic factor.
We know the Arthur C. Clarke quote: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I still remember emotions, reactions to the first mouse: jumping over obstacles, magic. Back to 2007, I go to the January Macworld show, on the last day. By then the iPhone surprise is out of the bag. I see the (staged) demo. My reaction, the audience reaction: Magic. With a real iPhone close enough to the demo, the magic justifies the price.
Voice-mail: Today, I cringe when I have to “patiently” endure the rote announcement at the top. Then, I dutifully listen to each message in sequence until I get to the one I really want. It gets even worse deep into the bag of older saved messages. On the iPhone, I see a list of messages, scroll and click to the fifth one, labeled by caller name.
Phone Calls: Please enjoy the UI of a Moto Razr. Seriously, what works for voice-mail works for making calls. Finger sliding, scrolling and tapping through the contacts or the calls list feels right, especially when I see normal humans around me fighting their way through their phone’s menu tree.
Browsing: There, we see potential for combining better what and how. Today's mobile devices have browsers but these often fail to render Web pages correctly. If Safari on the iPhone is the real Safari we have a full-feature browser. Add the touch interface to move the screen window around the larger page and the finger gestures to zoom in and out. The result is powerful and easy browsing on a handheld, arguably a first in the category.
Fans of the Opera browser will object the mobile version is the best of the category. It is indeed better than Explorer on a mobile device but does not, on paper or Steve's breath, match Safari on the iPhone.
And, of course, we have the iPod inside the iPhone: Music, Photo, Video, all enhanced by the better screen and the touch interface. Plus many thoughtful details, some present elsewhere, such as shutting down the touch screen when you put the iPhone to your ear, or detecting the screen orientation, rotating and fitting the picture.
Moving on to Design and Fashion: The iPhone’s
design continues the Apple/iPod line of objects that make a statement about the
owner. How much of a price premium
is created by Apple’s design?
This not for my excitable self to say. I
just wonder where critics put the design and fashion premium in their price
This said, the cell phone industry hasn't patiently waited on Apple to move away from the
dweeb pocket protector look.
Just for the third quarter of 2006, Motorola shipped "only" 53.7
million RAZR phones. Unfortunately for Motorola, the RAZR is yesterday's
object of envy, replaced by thinner models from Samsung and LG, the latter with
a Prada model. Fortunately for Apple, the company does not have to endure
the hauteur of a fashion designer, Apple is its own
Prada, hauteur included. It creates fashion, it
does not follow it – with margins to match.
Now, on to the bad news:
Cingular/AT&T: Or, more precisely, EDGE and coverage.
On these two points, the GSM-based Cingular network is weaker than Verizon and
Sprint. On the other hand, international travelers do like the international
coverage afforded by GSM network. I like how my Blackberry works on the train
between Hong Kong and Guangzhou, or in the Parisian Métro.
This said, it is interesting to peer into what Cingular does, or promises to do, to support features such as voice-mail presentation. Such features are not part of the standard set offered by a carrier. One has to wonder what happens to the beautiful voice-mail user interface when we roam away overseas. When AT&T gets off its seat and finally catches up with EVDO by deploying HSPDA, only coverage will remain to be solved. From personal experience, I use both Verizon and Cingular, I don’t know where Cingular finds the nerve to claim less dropped calls than, say, Verizon. In their legal department?
I keep e-mail for last because it reveals two of the most troublesome questions for the iPhone: Synchronization and typing.
The first refers to the bliss some of us experience thanks
to Off The Air, OTA sync with Outlook/Exchange when
using a Blackberry. I answer mail on the handheld device and, when I start my
laptop, I see the reply in the Sent folder of my Outlook client, so does my
assistant. A change on the calendar or address book propagates automagically in
all directions. You try it, you’re hooked. This explains RIM’s
success with the Blackberry and the software they bolt on the Exchange server.
Microsoft now does the same with Windows Mobile and ActiveSync.
It is so useful, so addictive, as the word Crackberry
attests, that I wonder how likely is Apple to succeed in weaning happy OTA sync
addicts away from homelier but cherished handhelds.
I like OTA sync so much I have an Intermedia.net hosted Exchange account with a Blackberry extension. With our domain name hosted there, the family’s e-mail now has OTA sync, just like a Fortune 500 enterprise -- minus dealing with its IT technopriests. [The witty Intermedia.net CEO, Michael Choupak never misses an opportunity to mock free e-mail suppliers such as Google, calling their customer support policy “24 by 0”. Fine for free personal e-mail but what happens if and when Google wants to woo enterprise customers...]
There are “consumer” e-mail sync solutions for handhelds, smart phones. But in one way or another, they come short of the “real thing” of complete OTA sync. Either they don’t sync PIM data such as Contacts and Calendar, or they require your PC to be up and running a redirection application at home, or some similarly opaque and clumsy combination.
True, it is not impossible for Apple to solve the problem and to provide an Apple-like OTA sync or to extend what the Gmail client offers, crisp Web-based free e-mail, contacts included, to their Web-based calendar.
The second problem looks even more serious: Typing.
Browsing, calling, music and videos, all blissful on the iPhone. But what about typing e-mail on a touch screen?
Please forgive me for what I'm about to say: Consumers are either cats or dogs. Cats are diffident. New cat food? They tip-toe around the dish, they may or may not give the new delicacy a try, but not right now, not just because you want them to.
Dogs are more enthusiastic. New food, scrunch, scrunch, they jump on it. Yes, but as the advertising lore says: Does the dog come back to the dog food?
I’m a dog, I try (almost) any product.
It is now June 2007. The dogs amongst us dutifully tithe to Apple store and email on their iPhone. Three weeks or three months later: do we still enthusiastically do our work email on our iPhone? In the affirmative, the sky is the limit. Otherwise they'll be iPhones on eBay. Discounted.
Before all else I learned all these playthings were not mere idle trifles invented by manufacturers and dealers for the purposes of gain. They were, on the contrary, a little or, rather, a big world, authoritative and beautiful, many sided, containing a multiplicity of things all of which had the one and only aim of serving love, refining the senses, giving life to the dead world around us, endowing it in a magical way with new instruments of love, from powder and scent to the dancing show, from ring to cigarette case, from waist buckle to handbag. This bag was no bag, this purse no purse, flowers no flowers, the fan no fan. All were the plastic material of love, of magic and delight. Each was a messenger, a smuggler, a weapon, a battle cry.
[Remembering the very-Berkley “Way of The Warrior”, I do a Google search for “The Way Of The iPod”. No such book or cult.] [Back]