Some brutal honesty about the iPhone's faults, and about that need for 3G (or 3.5G)

Some brutal honesty about the iPhone's faults, and about that need for 3G (or 3.5G)

Summary: Back when the iPhone came first out and I bitched and complained about its significant faults (lack of a replaceable battery was tops on my list, but the slower of AT&T's two networks and the soft-keyboard were others) to the point that I recommended waiting for v2.0, I took a bit of heat.

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Back when the iPhone came first out and I bitched and complained about its significant faults (lack of a replaceable battery was tops on my list, but the slower of AT&T's two networks and the soft-keyboard were others) to the point that I recommended waiting for v2.0, I took a bit of heat. Depending on who wrote to me (e-mail, via the Web, etc.), I began to think that I was the jealous bully who got up and kicked the other kids' blocks over in kindergarten. A lot of that inbound came from people I didn't even know and while I always like to hear alternative points of view from ZDNet's readers, I really started to think I was the one who was nuts when people that I've grown to know and trust -- ones who bought iPhones on their own -- started telling me I was the one on drugs.

How much of what they were telling me was true and how much of it was just an unwillingness to admit that the damn thing has its faults? Or maybe they just weren't taking advantage of everything the iPhone does and if they were, they just might find out that they might have been better off waiting for 2.0, provided 2.0 gets it right. For example, why buy an MP3-capable smartphone with a Bluetooth radio in it if that phone can't work with stereo Bluetooth accessories (headsets, speakers, etc.).

<sidebar> There's some speculation that the actual Bluetooth radio in the iPhone capable of supporting the A2DP stereo Bluetooth profile, it's just that the derivative of Tiger that runs on the iPhone doesn't fully support it. This theoretically could change if Apple offers an OS upgrade to a special iPhone derivative of Leopard.<sidebar>

But forgetting the Bluetooth stereo support for a minute, my biggest issue with the iPhone was its lack of a removable battery. If for example, you were using the iPhone to do all the great things that it can do, sometimes simultaneously (after all, if you're not going to, why drop so much coin for it?), there was no way in my mind that the phone's battery could last as long as you'd expect one that's not replaceable to last. I forgive phone manufacturers like Motorola (I have the Q) who make phones that do lots of things (make calls, check email, browse the Web, play videos and music, take pictures, etc.) and as a result, drain batteries dry before dinner time. That's OK (although I wish someone in the truth and advertising department would start to require the equivalent of a battery disclosure label, above right, on devices like the smartphone..... see more on my mock up here).

The laws of physics are working and while plenty of people think of Apple CEO Steve Jobs as though he's some sort of god, even he can't change the laws of physics in a day. What's unforgivable to a lot of people is the idea that their phone won't be available to them as a phone by the end of the day. For this, many people depend on the availability of replaceable batteries. I have two for the Motorola Q that I use and I keep them with me most of the time.

For people with big fingers (me in included), I also had a thing or two to say about the soft-keyboard. There are now several innovative handset designs out there that have figured out a way to conceal not just a hardware-based numeric keypad, but a separate hardware-based keyboard as well. Not that this is something I really expect Apple to change in v2.0, but Helio's Ocean (see my video here) comes to mind. It's very innovative and couldn't Apple do something similar? I've used Apple's soft-keyboard and like the idea that I if I press the wrong key, I can slide my finger to the left or right to get the correct one. That's impressive (I wish other soft-keyboard would do the same thing). But it's not the same as having the hardware keyboards.

I also thought Apple's TV ads that claimed the Web experience on the iPhone wasn't the "mobile Web," that it was "just the Web" was off the mark. Perhaps Apple has a different definition of the mobile Web than I do, but to me, when I think of "just the Web," I think of the broadband experience you get on your PC when you're sitting at home or in a WiFi hotspot. The iPhone has a WiFi radio and its Safari browser is so superb that, as long as you're connected to a WiFi hotspot, I'd agree, it's the Web (or as close as you going to get to it on a screen of the iPhone's dimensions). But most of the people I've spoken to (OK, not everybody) agree that the majority of the time they have their iPhone with them, it's connected to AT&T's network and not a WiFi network. And the slower of AT&T's two networks at that.

Here again, in fairness to Apple and the choice it made, it's not clear that picking the faster of AT&T's two networks would have made a difference. Yesterday, fellow ZDNet blogger Russell Shaw posted a blog under the headline The three reason why [a] 3G iPhone won't matter that much. To be honest, none of what he said resonated with me. For example, I don't understand the point about how the slower radio didn't matter to the so many people that purchased the iPhone. Really? A lot of people buy products only later to be disappointed by some feature. If there's one point about the iPhone where the friends of mine who own say, "well, that's true," it's the point about the Web experience being very slow -- more like the mobile Web -- over AT&T's network (whew, at least some vindication).

More compelling however (on the question of whether 3G will really make a difference) were the arguments made by Carl Howe who wrote about how there's more to 3G networks than performance. Like latency. And that there are other mitigating factors that could impact the performance of the final user experience besides just the raw bandwidth available to the end user. He answered his critics a day later, but that doesn't change the fact that there could be some truth to what he's saying. A 3G network, or even a 3.5G network may not matter. Or may not matter much. A WiMax network would matter (hmmmm).

The rumors are pretty strong that Apple will have a 3G phone in '08. One potential downside is that the 3G radio might drain the battery even faster than the current 2.5G rated radios. Of course, we won't know the truth about the total impact of a 3G radio on the iPhone's user experience or battery life until a 3G iPhone exists and we can compare. So, I'll back off on the "wouldn't buy one until it has 3G" point for now.

Even so, I wouldn't buy one just yet. That's because I think that now that the honeymoon has worn off, people are being more honest about their iPhones. People like Thomas Nelson Publishers president and CEO Michael Hyatt who, under the heading Second thoughts about the iPhone, wrote:

I’m thinking very seriously about giving up my iPhone and going back to my Blackberry. I know, I know. I was initially so enthusiastic.

I'm certain that same initial enthusiasm was the source of a lot of pushback I got on my iPhone assessment. Hyatt continues:

Initially, it was a good experience. I loved the user-interface and Apple's elegant and simple solutions. However, I am now beginning to wonder if I made the right decision. Today, after a full day of travel, I am frustrated and ready to give up.

Hyatt goes on to elaborate on five points that are getting under his skin

  • The battery life is insufficient
  • The keyboard is more trouble than it's worth
  • AT&T coverage is often spotty
  • The calendar doesn't automatically sync
  • I don't use the other applications that much

Quite frankly, neither Apple nor AT&T bear any responsibility for points 3 & 5. I have a zillion times over said that the three most important things to think about when getting a smart or cell phone are coverage, coverage, and coverage. If you are buying a phone that has trouble connecting to its service provider while you're at home, in the office, commuting, or at one of your other favorite haunts, you'll end up being very disappointed. A handset that can't connect to its network is of little use to anybody and no network has perfect coverage everywhere. This is why I often suggest that before you go buying a smartphone for all its great features, find out what service it attaches to, find someone else who has a phone or handset that's provisioned by that service, and ask to borrow their handset for a few hours. Then make sure it works in all your favorite places and along your favorite routes. If it doesn't, think twice about buying anything that works with that network.

On point #5, it's not like the iPhone's features weren't public. Shame on anybody who pays a premium for a bunch of features in any product and ends up not using them.

The first two points however (the keyboard one of which is somewhat echoed on O'Reilly's site) hit very close to home. They're two of the primary reasons I can't own an iPhone and that I'm looking forward to a future version of one that has replaceable batteries and a hardware-based keyboard.

Contrary to common belief, I don't hate Apple. If it solves those two major problems and makes the iPhone available on a network that actually floats around my house (primarily Verizon, but I just noticed an improvement in T-Mobile's signal), I'd probably buy one in a heartbeat. A MacBook Pro too, if Apple gave it a pointing stick (as shown in this "prototype").

Topics: Networking, Apple, Browser, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility, AT&T, Wi-Fi

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26 comments
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  • AT&T doesn't like Apple so much...

    [url=http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/2007/pulpit_20071129_003521.html]FYI[/url]

    The 'honeymoon' is over.
    ;)
    D T Schmitz
    • Yeah....

      Cringely is ALWAYS right... <rolleyes>
      Eriamjh
  • It used to be funny, now it's serious...

    The 'honeymoon' is over. iPhone 'early adopters' should have figured out the pros and cons by now.

    AT&T see that Apple may breach their 'exclusive' 5-year agreement with participation in the forthcoming January 2008 700MHz Open-Spectrum bid. ([url=http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2007/11/whos-going-to-win-spectrum-auction.html]Google is in[/url] as of today's announcement.)

    Where does that leave AT&T?

    Well we'll have to see if they throw their hat into the ring.

    Verizon is now singing Kumbaya for Openness (why now).

    BTW David, if you want to get rid of Blackberry envy, consider purchasing a [url=http://www.consilient.com/help/phones/]phone[/url] which supports [url=http://pushreg.consilient.com/]Consilient[/url] [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Push-IMAP]Push-IMAP[/url].

    Works great with Gmail and Nokia products like the N95.

    (Sorry iPhone Folks--Java support required.)

    ;)
    D T Schmitz
    • Why now?

      That is easy: It appears that consumers are willing to purchase phones without service (as they dislike the service) or that people will switch providers just to use the phone, so now, Verizon and the consumer can both get what they want, so why not open it up.
      GuidingLight
  • Get over it - it's just a phone

    It's amazing how some seem to think that the iPhone should epitomise their concept
    of the perfect phone. Like all products, it's built to a price and market segment. If
    you don't like it, don't buy one. And if you've bought one and don't like it, change to
    one you think you like better.
    Fred Fredrickson
    • They can't get over it, Fred. They are still in shock

      that a company can make things this good at this low price and people love it.

      I never read how my Nokia smartphone underdelivered, did you?

      This place is really sick, here, lots of people needing to justify themselves on why they are on the wrong side of progress and the improvement of the human condition.

      Love my iPhone, even without 3G. Easiest piece of technology I've ever put into service. Frickin' amazing.
      mlindl
  • RE: Some brutal honesty about the iPhone's faults, and about that need for 3G (or 3.5G)

    I've had a Treo 755p for about 5 months.

    Yesterday, in the morning I browsed the net, Drudge, the Wall Street Journal, Cnet, the Register, ZDNet using the browser Opera Mini installed on Java. Sptint service for web and email is $15.00 / month.

    I checked my IMAP email.

    In the afternoon, I read some more of the ebook Crime and Punishment on MobiReader. I toggled back and forth to Documents to Go to record and list and keep straight the multitude of Russian names.

    Later I went to the gymn and listened to the Best of the Eagles while jogging a couple of miles. During the cool down, sitting on a bench, still listening to the Eagles, I checked my email and the stock market using OnDemand (included with purchase).

    In the evening my wife phoned someone using the Treo.

    I plugged it in at night without a thought of battery life.

    Recently while traveling I used Google Maps to find all the car rental agencies in the immediate area. And to find a shorter way to the beach. And took a few pictures to show the kids.

    Then there's the whole the PDA thing.

    On the down side. I can't access a combobox on the web using Opera Mini without a crash.

    Over time the battery will probably loose efficency but I'll just by a new one.

    Anyway that's life with a smart phone. Gotta love it.

    Neil
    Neil422
    • Consilient Push-IMAP

      You might like to try install the [url=http://pushreg.consilient.com/]Consilient Push Email[/url]Java app--which if you have a flat rate monthly data plan will push email to you!

      Should work on your Treo 755p.
      D T Schmitz
  • Did somebody run over your dog?

    I have an iPhone and it's the first "smart phone" that I've owned, but I have tried several generations of treos, blackberries, Qs..etc. I read your post and it makes me think of a person who works with bad software all the time and doesn't enjoy anything. My service works well, my internet works good, the keyboard is simple, my email reads perfectly, and the features seem cool and useful. Is there room for improvement? Of course... But as ver 1.0 - It's pretty revolutionary.
    sonikmag
    • No mention of the battery...

      and what happens when you're traveling, making calls, using the bluetooth headset (and radio), checking e-mail, looking at pictures of your kid, listening to music and/or videos, etc, etc. Does the battery make it all the way until the end of the day? Or don't you use it for all those things that it's supposed to do... and last?

      David
      dberlind
      • Usage

        Not everyone is going to be a "power" phone user. There are some double
        standards being applied to your piece. Just as the dismissal of the MacBook
        because of a lack of pointing stick speaks to a narrow field of focus, so do your
        criticisms here.

        If 3G sucks battery life, then a 3G iPhone's life would be shorter still. If it had a
        tactile keyboard the display would be smaller. Any phone is a series of
        compromises, this set of compromises may not be for you. What you're missing is
        context. Apple moved a huge amount of functionality into software. They have dealt
        with the device as a self contained item. A person for whom portability and ease of
        use is paramount, these "compromises" are the right ones to make. The iPhone may
        not court the business user, but it doesn't have to to be a success.

        The iPhone, like the Mac, exists within a market dominated by other platforms. The
        emergent iPhone "platform" should be a separate topic. The iPhone as platform has
        tremendous potential. To short-sell it is a mistake. It also is a platform designed to
        coexist with other handset platforms. What choice does it have. Apple excels at
        refinements because it need not be all things to all people.

        For anyone short of a hardcore cell phone user, this is a compelling product. The
        choice to exclude a swappable battery does nothing more than clarify the scope of
        this device. It is neither right or wrong. It is just right or wrong for you.

        As the iPhone matures beyond its current infancy, you may regret the narrow and
        self involved focus. You are denied OSX because of a lack of a joystick? iPhone is
        not an option because of big fingers and battery life? That's too bad. You've gone a
        long way to convincing 15% of one gender that this isn't for them either. What
        about the rest of us?

        The ZDNet myopia does not reflect the consumer space and does nothing to
        champion the non technical user. A blog that dismisses software advancements
        and paradigm shifts because of narrow focus and personal agendas, is not helpful
        in the larger sense. iPhone will make Nokia, Windows Mobile, and Android, better.
        We all win. This is not the message I get from half-hearted hatchet jobs. Its not
        balanced, its sour grapes.

        The iPhone's keyboard will soon flip sideways, the API's will emerge shortly, the
        symbiotic relationship with the Mac platform will be leveraged, and the power of a
        palm sized OS will be brought to bear. Do you doubt it for a second? As it evolves,
        may the users of button encrusted transformer toys, with their kit bags full of
        memory sticks, cables and backup batteries, be forever happy with their choices.

        So by all means, be the messenger for brutal honesty. I'm sure you'll agree that
        when the time comes for the brutal honesty for ZDNet, you'll beg off and leave it to
        those with no conflict of interest.
        Harry Bardal
        • I don't agree with your assumptions

          1. I have never spoken of the lack of a 3G radio without also saying it must have the option of a replaceable battery. That would solve the problem of drain.

          2.What you say about the keyboard isn't necessarily true. The Helio Ocean tucks not one but two keyboards underneath the display in a way that doesn't impact the display at all.

          3. You say the lack of a replaceable battery means it isn't right or wrong, just right or wrong for you. Interesting point. When should it be rated right or wrong? In other words, how would you like to find out the battery doesn't last as long as you'd like it to (like the blogger I pointed to) AFTER you bought it. This isn't just about right or wrong. This is about setting expectations (the reason I talk about the battery label) and (2) who packs a phone with all those features without making the battery replaceable knowing full well that those features will drain the battery? It's a bad design choice and the fact is some number of buyers recognize that shortcoming and will wait. Forgive me for drawing attention to this issue.

          4. Regarding OS X, the pointing stick is simply a manifestation of a larger issue. What I'm pointing out is that a handful of notebooks as good as they are, could be expanded to a few more that might satisfy a much larger part of the market ... all Apple has to do is pick one or two other strategic partners who in turn can innovate on the platform. As innovative as Apple is (and they are the most innovative if you ask me), don't you think it's competition that brings out the best OS X hardware? Couldn't Apple benefit from licensing the operating system to a couple of strategic partners who in turn ca do some exciting things (trackpoint or not) that will excite the market?

          Thanks for your brutal honesty. When it comes to ZDnet, I don't beg off. I'm ready to back up what I say.

          David
          dberlind
          • You're not being realistic

            As far as replacing batteries on cell phones goes, I don't know one person that carries an extra battery with them for their phone. I don't kmow om that has an extra in their home or office.

            I guess there might be outboard separate battery chargers for cell batteries that are not in teh phone. If there are I don't know anybody who has one.

            Many many people on the toad spend a huge percentage of that time in the car. Any time you're in teh car you can have your cell phone plugged into the car charger and never lose battery life. My wife plugs in her cell phone every single time she gets in the car.

            Your point 4: When it comes to "innovative" desktop computer makers, there's ONLY one left: Apple. The rest of the pc market has become a commodity market ruled by price, with reliability being a strong second. There hasn't been much "innovation" in years. All you get are faster processors, bigger drives, etc. Has hardware competition in the Windows platform brought any super "innovation" lately? Even Apple is running out of options. Most of there present "innovation" is in form factor adn appearance. The thing that really sells macs is OSX.

            At that WSJ interview with Gates and Jobs months ago, Jobs said that he didn't think that we woudl see any great innovation in computers in the future. He said innovation would come from devices, like smart phones, etc. If "Mr. Innovation" says that you probably won't see much more, beleive him.
            j.m.galvin
          • "I don't know one person that carries an extra battery with them..."

            Then let me introduce myself.

            I have been purchasing and carrying spare cell phone batteries since I purchased my very first ?Bag Phone? in 1996. And that was one mother of spare 12v battery to lug round.
            And as for the other iPhone short comings?LG seems to have them covered as well with its Voyager. I purchased one the day they came available from Verizon, and am very satisfied with it. It blows the iPhone away. And yes?I did purchase an extended battery for it.

            And finally?the next time BEFORE you post a response?for God?s sake use a SPELL CHECKER!
            IT_Guy_z
          • NO ONE Carries an extra battery??????

            I own the Moto Q 9h and have had the whole line up of Palm's and always have a battery in my brief case or on my body when traveling. My experience has been that EVERY serious user of these devises carries an additional charged battery and I have been a cell user since before the "bag phones".
            billaaa4
          • Conflict of Interest

            "1. I have never spoken of the lack of a 3G radio without also saying it must have
            the option of a replaceable battery. That would solve the problem of drain."

            This is either an argument on behalf of 3G and a replaceable battery, or it's an
            argument on behalf of the compromise that the iPhone made. What you've not
            included in your opinion, is that the replaceable battery is a slippery slope. It
            expands the self contained nature of what is supposed to be a portable and self
            contained device to a kit bag with accoutrement. How many separate pieces are
            needed to complete these phones of yours. Memory sticks? Batteries? Cables? Bags
            to carry it all. When exactly do the excessive demands placed on a phone by tech
            fetishists start to look rediculous? You tell me.


            "2.What you say about the keyboard isn't necessarily true. The Helio Ocean tucks
            not one but two keyboards underneath the display in a way that doesn't impact the
            display at all."

            As far as I'm concerned, any phone that requires two hard keyed keypads clearly
            didn't do the first one right to begin with. You may have become aware that the
            iPhone is outselling the Ocean by a large margin. You may continue to attribute this
            to hype, and the reality distortion field, or you can be brutally honest with yourself
            and concede that people are responding to touch screen technology,
            hardware/software integration, ease of use, and a balanced set of compromises.
            For those with different tastes, the iPhone does nothing to impede competition
            from the Ocean.


            "3. You say the lack of a replaceable battery means it isn't right or wrong, just right
            or wrong for you. Interesting point. When should it be rated right or wrong? In
            other words, how would you like to find out the battery doesn't last as long as you'd
            like it to (like the blogger I pointed to) AFTER you bought it. This isn't just about
            right or wrong. This is about setting expectations (the reason I talk about the
            battery label) and (2) who packs a phone with all those features without making the
            battery replaceable knowing full well that those features will drain the battery? It's
            a bad design choice and the fact is some number of buyers recognize that
            shortcoming and will wait. Forgive me for drawing attention to this issue."


            Apple's battery claims are no more extravagant than anyone elses. Thanks for the
            tireless advocacy on behalf of consumer rights, but singling out Apple is nothing
            more than a snide green peace style tactic to attack the most conspicuous violator.
            Please, in future, don't insult our intelligence as readers by implying that we can't
            or don't understand that battery life "may" not meet claims, for any device, ever.
            This argument is leveled industry wide, or not at all.

            The jury is still out on the lifetime battery life and the way in which that is
            addressed. What I am tired of however, is people with bags full of tech gear, and
            multiple phones, criticizing the more casual, and nontechnical user. This may come
            as a shock, but there are those who may only make 3 calls a day, maybe one trip to
            the browser. Apple is doing more to address this casual user with their choices,
            compromises, and innovations.


            "4. Regarding OS X, the pointing stick is simply a manifestation of a larger issue.
            What I'm pointing out is that a handful of notebooks as good as they are, could be
            expanded to a few more that might satisfy a much larger part of the market ... all
            Apple has to do is pick one or two other strategic partners who in turn can
            innovate on the platform. As innovative as Apple is (and they are the most
            innovative if you ask me), don't you think it's competition that brings out the best
            OS X hardware? Couldn't Apple benefit from licensing the operating system to a
            couple of strategic partners who in turn ca do some exciting things (trackpoint or
            not) that will excite the market?"


            This is the most egregious and wrong headed assumption of all. I'll take it point by
            point. The "larger market" may or may not be addressed by Apples products
            depending on your definition of what a "larger market" is. Do you mean a 51%
            voting share? Do you mean a Microsoft monopoly share? Or do you mean to
            include those with RSI issues? Apple's market is large already and potentially very
            large indeed. Is this is still "not large enough"?

            Those working under the yoke of a Microsoft monopoly for years, have had little to
            relate to besides total dominance. When things like Vista stumble, the clarion call
            goes up. Now Apple owes you a living? How about no. If you are excluded from this
            particular party, for whatever reason, then guess what, options are available. The
            fact that there are options brings me to the next point.

            You may have missed a little thing called the antitrust suit. Microsoft was taken to
            task for licensing broadly, presuming to be all things to all people, and coercing
            OEMs with legal language. This platform based economy eclipsed the open market
            and replaced it with what was essentially feudalism. Apparently you celebrate this.
            It has brought you spoils like Vista, thumb sticks, and "competition". By all means,
            triumph in your Vista, and your thumb stick, but do not try to tell me for one
            instant that this was competition. This was a harem of technically atrophied chattel
            called original equipment manufacturers. Their role wast to maintain an illusion of
            open market competition and feed tribute back to the king. So let's do it all over
            again except with a different king? Again how about no.

            Apple at this point in time is the single embodiment of true open market
            competition. It is a real and substantive competition. One between platforms and
            technologies, not between different shapes of extruded plastic. It is competition
            between differentiated computing experiences, not different iterations of Windows.

            Apple doesn't have a thumb stick. This means you are excluded from using OSX, an
            OS you claim you'd prefer to use. What to do? Call for a switch from one monopoly
            to another? Ask Apple to subvert a successful and fair business model in favor of
            an exploitive one? For a thumb stick? Again, how about no.

            What you've done is taken a personal agenda and projected it into a huge arena,
            when all that's necessary is to jerryrig a MacBook. You've argued on behalf of
            muscle memory over intellect, and on behalf of feudalism over open market
            competition.

            When it comes to giving lectures about this marketplace, its dynamics, and its
            nuance, you should beg off right now. This has been sour grapes.
            Harry Bardal
  • what were you expecting? the perfect phone?

    If so, then wake up to reality.. of course the iPhone has
    its flaws, but as a first phone, Apple did an amazing job,
    nobody has ever done before. Kudos.
    Personally I'm very happy with the battery life... and have
    no problems whatsoever with the keyboard either.. but
    he, that doesn't count, because I own an iPhone, so I
    must be an Apple fanboy
    sos10
    • It's not like...

      there haven't been one or two phones that came before the iPhone for Apple to learn from. Recall that RIM made the same mistake with the replaceable battery and learned its lesson. Why not learn from the mistakes of others?

      db
      dberlind
      • mistakes

        Since my first cell phone (the first gsm model Sony produced in the early nineties) I
        have never had to change the battery, I probably don't call enough.
        (Except for the Nokia 8800 that came with 2 batteries, and for a reason.. even by not
        using that $1000 phone, the battery would drain completely in 24 hours.)
        sos10
  • I've been saying this all along.

    And this is why I didn't nor will I ever buy an iPhone, which is anyway highly overpriced for the number of features they've done away with, the battery being the first on my list, second being 3G.

    Even then, it is still poor value for money, and you are locked in for 2 years unlike Europe, where they have the luxury to pay one-and-a-half grand for an unlocked version. Wow, lots of spare change burning a hole in some peoples' pockets.

    I already have a phone which is far cheaper, does everything the iphone does, has a replaceable battery, does 3G and everything else the iPhone doesn't, and I've had it for quite a while now, since before the iphone came out. Yes, there are several alternatives. Look around. Stop being blinded by the apple RDF.
    kraterz