What may sink the iPhone

What may sink the iPhone

Summary: I may be eating a lot of crow about my prediction that the iPhone was a red herring (it was announced after all) but that doesn't mean that I have to like it.

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TOPICS: iPhone
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iPhone, SchmiphoneI may be eating a lot of crow about my prediction that the iPhone was a red herring (it was announced after all) but that doesn't mean that I have to like it.

There are a lot of issues with iPhone as others have deftly pointed out, not the least of which are the facts that it doesn't have a removable battery, it's locked to a carrier, it's wicked expensive (when you consider that Apple's getting a ~US$100 kickback from Cingular on each unit sold) and the list goes on. But what may sink the iPhone is its lack of international roaming support.

My friend Ole put it best:

The iPhone certainly has a lot of "wow" factor and could well become as ground-breaking and popular as the iPod, as Bob Snow suggests. The use of an entirely software-based interface promises to give us allkinds of cool upgrades and enhancements (perhaps even third party ones?) over time.

So, what's the bad news?

First, this phone will not work in Japan because it does not support the crucial international 3G band, known as 2100MHz WCDMA, or UMTS.

Lack of 3G support also means less choices for roaming in Europe and other parts of Asia. Cingular will tell you they plan to offer 3G on 1900Mhz in the US, but this doesn't address the roaming issue. Of course, a "real" 3G phone would also have a camera on the USER side of the phone to allow for video-conferencing, but this concerns me lessthan the frequency issue.

Second, this phone will (at least initially) be offered only through a contract with Cingular which implies it will be SIM-locked. Frequent international travellers rely on the ability to purchase a local SIM card in the destination country. While Cingular may offer unlocking (if you ask and for a fee), this is not at all clear. Handsets are often sold (or given away) as part of contract deals with carriers, but it does not have to be this way. A lucrative market exists for folks who simply want to purchase a phone that "works everywhere".

Think about it. For the first time Apple has introduced a product that's initially only available in the US and only through a contract with one carrier. Wouldn't it have been better to launch the iPhone simultaneously all over the world and let the users choose carrier instead? The announcement about phones being available in Europe and Asia later implies that these units will have different frequency specifications, hopefully incorporating that crucial 3G band. One canonly hope that such a model differentiation does NOT come at the cost of another band, such as the US-only 850Mhz GSM band. Maybe Apple will realize that the iPhone, like the iPod is an international device. Aphone will only "work everywhere" if it has quad-band GSM and 3G.I live in hope.

For the record, since 2005, I've used two different handset models that  support 3G and roamed on both VodaPhone Japan and DoCoMo. My carrier is Cingular. This works really well and is the only way you can roam in Japan since the other cellular networks there are incompatible with the rest of the world.

Bummer.

Topic: iPhone

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47 comments
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  • The phone does have roaming internations support

    The post you quoted from is completely off the mark. As you can see here from apple's tech specs page for the iphone (http://www.apple.com/iphone/technology/specs.html) the phone is quad band and will work well in Europe. The EDGE (2.5G) data plan is somewhat slow but works internationally.

    As for being SIM locked that could be an issue but I'd like to know the number of people that travel internationally enough that buy another SIM card. I spent close to 5 weeks in Europe in 2005 for work and pleasure and didn't even consider another SIM and my phone is unlocked. Getting a SIM is just too expensive unless you feel the need to make hundreds of minutes of calls while being mobile (as opposed to using Skype or a calling card from cafes and hotels).

    I haven't read too much on the iPhone but with all the griping about no 3G, I'm surprised to see no rebuttal on why 3G is such a beast of a battery drain. The blackjack comes with 2 batteries because of the power drain. You can't have a 11 mm phone and even dream of 3G. Maybe if they make it 20mm you'll get a 3G phone (and you'll pretty much end up with a HTC Trinity with a better OS and screen).

    I think Apple went exclusively with Cingular for a couple of reasons. A) they want GSM to be able to sell the world over and Cingular is the best choice in America and b) they want a carrier discount to drop the price of this to be almost affordable.

    This phone has the specs of an imate jamin which despite being a year old still goes for around $500. Go add 4 GB of flash and that amazing screen and still be $500 they had to get the $200 Cingular discount. And Cingular must have insisted this phone stay locked.
    brooking
    • I didn't say "no international roaming" !!!

      I said, to paraphrase myself, that this phone will not work in Japan, but Apple may well release a DIFFERENT model later that will work in Japan. There are LOTS of 3G networks that operate at 2100MHz WCDMA, so this also offers you more roaming partners. My complaint is that, for now, this phone will not work in Japan, and by the way it's locked to one carrier. Also, the tiny battery on my Sony-Ericsson M600i seems to hold up just fine when operating on 3G networks, and that's a pretty slim phone also.

      Ole
      oledino
    • Third reason for Cingular

      And the one that everyone else seems to be forgetting. Some of the iPhone features
      (visual voice mail) require networking upgrades and changes on the CARRIER side.
      This just isn't carrier lock-in, it's a true partnership. Cingular actually upgraded their
      network to make IT iPhone compatible. And Jobs commented that additional network
      upgrades were coming from Cingular in the future to add more capabilities that the
      iPhone could utilize.
      frgough
    • Don't dis the Blackjack.

      I love my Blackjack. I bought it the day after the iPhone came out. I had waited to buy an iPhone, then, at the last minute realized that 1.0 is still 1.0. I'll wait 'til my new contract expires (or 'til the Blackjack expires, whichever comes first) and reconsider the iPhone. The killer in the deal for me is no 3rd party apps. The phone doesn't do everything I need natively (neither iPhone nor Blackjack) but Blackjack lets me use 3rd party options to solve my problems.

      Battery life has been almost too good to be true--more than a day despite my high data usage, and the second battery means I can just swap them out each morning--easier than charging in the bedroom as I need the phone nearby at night.

      My only complaints are the proprietary usb port, as I am used to Motorola phones which use standard mini A male connectors, of which I have dozens; and the fact that the second battery is the "extended life" battery, requiring the special battery door. I wouldn't even complain about the battery door issue if the "extended life" battery was actually had an extended life, but a quick check at Samsung's site confirms that both the standard and extended life battery have the same rated standby and talk time, and real life usage bears this out. They are exactly equal, but the "extended life" is nearly twice as thick.

      3G is icing on the cake, EDGE is better than it gets credit for.

      Believe me, I'm happy. So happy I'm thrilled Apple didn't sell the iPhone at the new, lower price point at the start or I might have bought one. It's now cheaper than Blackjack if you consider equal voice and data usage over the course of the contract, because the iPhone plans are not the same plans AT&T offers on other phones. And, as I said, I love my Blackjack.
      spookyone1
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  • Not sure that international is that important

    According to the US government, there were about 29 million travelers from the US to the rest of the world.
    http://tinet.ita.doc.gov/outreachpages/inbound.total_intl_travel_volume_1995-2005.html

    According to the CIA world factbook there are about 219 million cell phone users in the US.

    Assuming all of these travelers have cell phones (some are probably babies who don't), then 13% of the cell phone users travel. Furthermore, a portion of these folks are infrequent travelers who wouldn't make a phone purchase based in international needs.

    The bottom line is that about 90% of the cell phone users don't need international coverage. Yes, it is a neat feature. Furthermore, I'm sure it is important to you and others like you who travel. However, I wouldn't automatically assume that this is so critical that it will ruin the market for the iPhone.

    My biggest question is the price point and feature package. Cingular is not one of the cheapest carriers. I don't know if Jobs has negotiated a special price plan, but if not, I expect it to be expensive. Furthermore, by the time you lump in a data plan and a voice plan and a handset you have a fairly expensive service. Will the mass market be able to afford this?

    Of course, you could argue back with me by pointing out that the price point makes it a business orientated purchase, and that high-end business orientated users are more likely to travel internationally. My question here is: How many businesses are likely to pay a premium to let their employees watch movies and listen to iTunes? With a 5 hour battery life, what would your company do if you couldn't take calls because you had watched too much video on the plane flight in?

    So the basic issue is that it is a business price point and a consumer orientated feature set. If you are going business-orientated then by all means add in international roaming and strip out iTunes and video-playing. Maybe add-in a video-out capability so you can hook it up to a remote projector to show presentations and provide the capability to add a plugin keyboard. If it is consumer orientated, then it needs to be cheaper and tied to a cheaper price plan -- and international roaming is less important.
    emellaich
  • iPhone

    Jason and Ole make some interesting observations but remember that the phone is a good six months away from release. A lot of time for improvements and adjustments including .Mac and Gmail support. And for us in Japan, another year for improvements if not version two or three of the phone. But with three of the main carriers (Docomo, AU and Softbank) wanting their users to use their data content interfaces, it will be interesting to see who will be carrying this phone here. First bet is Softbank because they own Yahoo Japan but who knows.
    And I can't imagine Apple not coming out with a widescreen iPod without the phone capabilities in the meantime for the huge market here in Japan.
    Just add a Skype widget and bingo, wireless phone calls from the office or home.
    Was waiting for a new PDA and it seems like this device will do.
    And the world of new peripherals due to come out thanks to Bluetooth and 802 built in should be interesting including portable keyboards for those who can't stand the touchscreen.
    Japanese character input can be a challenge as it is much faster to use the keypad on phones rather than a touchscreen.
    Looking forward to seeing a real unit soon!
    TokyoAce
    • FCC certification process freezes the feature set

      "but remember that the phone is a good six months away from release. A lot of time for improvements and adjustments including .Mac and Gmail support."

      I don't think that Apple can change the hardware once they file with the FCC. I'm not an expert, but I believe the FCC certification process freezes the feature set. If they make a change (to the hardware, anyway) then I'm pretty sure that they have to re-apply. Software is another story.

      Can anyone confirm?

      - Jason
      Jason D. O'Grady
  • 3G and EDGE

    Correct me if I'm wring, but isn't edge just a cheap upgrade to GPRS until UMTS can be deployed. I think that AT&T/Cingular have been upgrading their networks to UMTS since the end of 2004. The phone may already support UMTS where available.
    Alan Balaoing
    • It does not.

      The current, first gen iPhone doesn not support UMTS. Not even where available.
      spookyone1
  • Short sited blog

    Apple is a savvy company. Since they have obviously been working with Cingular, don't you think all of these issues have been brought up and considered? If laymen like us can think of these issues, don't you think a room full of engineers has?

    And, according to the post above, all of these issues are unfounded anyway. Looks like you might need to do some research before writing articles like this.
    burn0050
    • All products have compromises

      burns -

      Obviously the engineers weighed the pros and cons of every feature and tradeoffs had to be made. That's the way every product is. Also different features are important to different people. I was simply pointing out some features that bother me about about iPhone.

      Please back up this statement:
      "according to the post above, all of these issues are unfounded anyway"

      Which issues are you claiming are unfounded?
      I think that they're pretty grounded in facts.

      - Jason
      Jason D. O'Grady
      • Job's said 3G coming

        Hi Jason,

        Steve made a comment that 3G was on the way, it was easy to miss on the video, but
        I was listening real hard as in NZ we have 3G on both Vodafone GSM and Telecom
        2.5/3 G.

        -Neil
        KiwiMonster
        • He did indeed say that

          Jobs did mention 3G in passing, so that is very good news. It does mean that us non-Yanks will have to wait for a while (which we have to do anyway given its US-only launch) before we buy, but that may have other advantages too such as bug fixes and feature improvements. Remember the first iPods ....

          Ole
          oledino
  • VOIP

    There's always Wi-Fi VOIP as an alternative to roaming.
    rimbaud@...
    • Skype: Can you hear me now?

      Skype developers should be _all over_ the iPhone. A Skype widget has the potential to be the iPhones killer app. I hope that they have 50 engineers on this right now

      - Jason
      Jason D. O'Grady
      • I hope not...

        50 engineers is too many...5 engineers would probably get the job done faster and better.
        Erik Engbrecht
  • SIM Lock Codes

    Cingular supplies SIM unlock codes on demand after three months of use for the current phone. (You can probably even get it earlier if you claim a particular need.)
    Robert Crocker
  • Hmmm. . . built-in battery

    That may be a challenge for some, including me. Not good.
    999ad@...
    • Agreed, this is *really bad*

      iPhone's fixed battery means that you can't bring a second battery when you're on the road, which can be a *really bad* thing. An iPod's one thing, a mobile phone is something completely different.

      The only upside is that the iPhone's 30-pin "dock connector" can save you in pinch if you have, say, an auto or wall charger for your iPod handy when the iPhone battery dies.

      I'd still take a removable battery over the dock connector (any day) if I had to choose between the two.

      Add a removable battery to the wishlist for iPhone 2.0.

      - Jason
      Jason D. O'Grady