Mobile
Commentary
6/29/2007
01:59 PM
Stephen Wellman
Stephen Wellman
Commentary
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We Can't Stop Talking About The iPhone

There is no escape from the iPhone. I have never seen a consumer-electronics device dominate public discourse as much as this gadget. In my many years of writing about cell phones, I always thought the buzz surrounding the launch of the Motorola Razr was unique. But that was nothing compared to the iPhone.

There is no escape from the iPhone. I have never seen a consumer-electronics device dominate public discourse as much as this gadget. In my many years of writing about cell phones, I always thought the buzz surrounding the launch of the Motorola Razr was unique. But that was nothing compared to the iPhone.Friends and family can't stop talking about it. I'm bombarded with TV and Web commercials. At work, the iPhone creeps into business conversations. I get promo e-mails for the iPhone and its accessories. I receive press releases telling me how the iPhone will impact everything from world peace to the future of the automobiles. (None of the releases are from Apple!)

iPhone mania has likewise gripped all of us here at InformationWeek. We can't stop talking about it.

Even our executives are weighing in. During a recent e-mail exchange, one of our executives made some really great points about the iPhone. I wanted to post his thoughts here so he can join our conversation. His name is David Levin, CEO of United Business Media, which is the parent corporation of InformationWeek and the TechWeb Network. He was formerly CEO of Symbian Ltd., the mobile software group, so he has a pretty good idea of what he's talking about when it comes to wireless.

Here's what David says:

It's here. Last night I passed by the growing queue of consumers waiting for the iPhone here in New York City and I was amazed to see such passion for the launch a consumer electronics product. How exciting!

As both a phone head -- I was the CEO of Symbian -- and as a passionate iPod owner I really look forward to playing with the iPhone. Apple's product development, marketing and positioning with the iPhone has been very smart. The iPhone is available only on one network -- AT&T -- and Apple leveraged their brand strength to secure a deal with AT&T that no other mobile manufacturer could ever get.

This launch is both competitive to other smartphone makers like Nokia, Motorola, etc., but also a welcome development. The iPhone will likely boost sales of all smartphones -- not just the iPhone -- creating a bigger market in the U.S. for higher-priced and more feature-rich mobile devices.

On top of that, the iPhone may break down the requirements that U.S. carriers have traditionally put on almost all the mobile phones they sell. I was at a small forum five years ago with Steve Jobs when he that he would never, ever allow any Apple product to be launched in an environment where its features could be dictated or controlled by outside parties. And it looks like Jobs has achieved this end with the launch of the iPhone, sidestepping most of the requirements AT&T places on almost every other mobile phone maker. This development could have both positive and negative consequences for consumers. An excellent example of the upside is the apparent ability of the iPhone to seamlessly roam onto Wi-Fi networks. While the iPhone isn't the first smartphone to have Wi-Fi access, every mobile phone maker I know has battled with operators over this feature. In almost ever case the carriers delayed, blocked and made Wi-Fi more inaccessible than the manufacturers wanted. Score 1 for the iPhone, 0 for the operators -- for now.

Of course the real test will be whether AT&T will decide to let other manufacturers enable Wi-Fi on their new phones. On the other hand, this lack of control could have some downside, too. Will the cellular radio work well? Is the iPhone a good phone? How well does work inside buildings? How quick and easy is it to make calls? Early reviews, including Walt Mossburg's review in The Wall Street Journal, indicate that dialing from the iPhone isn't easy. Will this hurt the iPhone with consumers who want a usable phone? And there are other potential downsides to Apple's solitary control of the iPhone. Apparently the phone's Safari browser does not support flash. Will the iPhone be able to support enterprise e-mail? Is the lack of games on the iPhone a problem? How easy is it to customize? Of course there is the question of the iPhone's lack of openness. How many applications from a store like Handango will work on the iPhone? None. That won't hurt on day one, but may well on day 101. There are other criteria that we should consider when evaluating the iPhone. How does the iPhone stack up in terms of features? Here is a look at the kind of features many other high-end smartphones include:

  • 5 MP camera/camcorder

  • HSDPA or 3G network access

  • multiple drm standards

  • bluetooth stereo

  • MMS

  • voice dialing

  • full Web browser

  • graphically rich UI, customisable UI, theme managers

  • VIVID UI (movie clips as floating icons on the home screen)

  • Flash UIs

  • Graphics capabilities should be visible not just from the UI but from signature applications e.g. Flash in the browser

  • Gaming engine (downloadable games which make use of powerful graphics APIs such as OpenGL ES).
  • Not all of these are in the iPhone. As reviews from educated and informed reviewers come out - and as the iPhone spreads to markets outside of the U.S. -- we will see which of these features are embedded in the iPhone and how many Apple will have to add over time. We'll also see if Apple can dictate terms as successfully to carriers outside the U.S. Personally, I hope the iPhone has these great features or that will Apple add them soon. But more importantly, I hope that future reviews and reports about the iPhone will pierce through the hype and show the reality of the iPhone.

    What do you think? How will the iPhone stack up globally to other iPhones, especially once carriers outside the U.S. start to carry it?

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