'Worthy of the hype' was the wrong iQuestion to answer. iPhone 2.0 will likely be worth the wait

'Worthy of the hype' was the wrong iQuestion to answer. iPhone 2.0 will likely be worth the wait

Summary: Maybe I need to go back on the same iMeds that everyone else appears to be on. Without laying my hands on an iPhone, my sense is that the early reviews are for the most part iNuts.

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Maybe I need to go back on the same iMeds that everyone else appears to be on. Without laying my hands on an iPhone, my sense is that the early reviews are for the most part iNuts. In fact, it's almost surreal how all of them seem to answer the very basic question of whether the handset actually lives up to the hype that preceded it:

On balance, Pogue, Baig, Levy and Mossberg (the last of which refrained from going the hype route) turned out some great work.  There was clearly enough consensus among the four to help their readers understand the pros and cons of the iPhone, particularly in context of market expectations.  But what were the odds that three out of the four first reviews (the Journal's Walt Mossberg didn't go the "hype" route) would use hyperbole as their yardstick (two in the headline). It's as though that's the official testing criteria: does it live up to the expectations that have been set for it?

Testing and reviewing products in a vacuum like this is a trap that technology writers often fall into. Somewhere around 1992, when I was in charge of testing and reviewing networking products for PC Week (now eWeek), Dan Farber arrived on the scene as that publication's new editor in chief. His prior assignment was e-i-c at PC Week's sister weekly at Ziff-Davis: MacWeek (ZDNet has since gone its separate way from Ziff-Davis, but Dan and I have stayed together all this time). Back then, we were also reviewing products in that vacuum. We had a type of review called the First Look that by design was a single product review designed to see if the product being tested lived up to its expectations.

Shortly after assuming his new post, Dan came down to the testing lab and pointed out that these First Looks were all well and good, but they lacked comparative context. Dan believed in his heart (as I have since) that our responsibility as technology journalists is to help readers make informed decisions about the technology they might buy and the solution providers they're doing business with. Doing this right means sharing more than just our observations that a product does or doesn't do what the vendor says it does (or what the market expectations are). Doing this right also means putting the product's performance, features, and cost in context of what else is on the market at that time.

This was my message earlier this week when the local Fox TV affiliate (Fox 25 Boston) came to interview me on Tuesday night about the iPhone interviewed For all that it is and does, the fundamental question about the iPhone isn't whether or not it lives up to the hype. It's whether or not, for $499 (the 4GB model) or $599 (the 8GB model), it's the best option on the market given your needs (and everyone is going to have different needs).  The hyperbole question basically asks if you can overlook the iPhone's flaws in order to get its benefits for $499 or $599.  What it doesn't ask is whether those flaws are addressed by other entries on the market and, then how well those other entries stack up to the iPhone's positive points. In other words, is the iPhone's upside over competing devices so "up" that it not only causes you to overlook it's flaws, it causes you to overlook entries that on paper make more sense.  Economists refer to this as the "opportunity cost" of going one route versus others.

Here are some of the top 5 sacrifices iPhone buyers will have to make that, for a lot of people who don't have $500 or $600 to blow, should be dealbreakers:

  • No replaceable battery: History is repeating itself on two vectors here. When the first messaging handset to really "nail it" hit the market (the BlackBerry), it had amazing battery life for what it did. But the minute Research in Motion added phone functionality, battery life became a major issue and the company retooled the BlackBerry with a replaceable battery. We're talking about a battle-tested and market-tested product here.  With the iPhone, Apple has repeated that mistake instead of learning from the mistakes of others. On the second vector,  iPods don't have replaceable batteries either. The net result is that, like iPods, when the iPhone's battery eventually fails to retain its charge, it must be sent back to Apple for servicing.  It's one thing to be without your MP3 player for a few days.  It's another to be without your messaging device and what for more and more people is turning out to be their ONLY phone (the number of people that don't have a landline is clearly on the rise). Finally, I've seen Apple's battery life ratings.  Bear in mind that no one uses a handset the way handset manufacturers rate the battery life of their handsets.  For example, no one stands-by for 250 hours.  No one watches video for 7 hours to the exclusion of all else. And the one thing that has proven to be the bane of existence for handset batteries -- the radio chatter that goes along with the constant checking and fetching of e-mail -- isn't even mentioned.  Once all of these and other activities (text messaging, phone calls, WiFi usage, Bluetooth usage, Web browsing, audio playback, etc.) are taken in combination (as they should be by any self-respecting iPhone user), my sense is that there are going to be some very disappointed customers.
  • AT&T's slow network: For starters, the three most important things to consider when buying a handset are coverage, coverage, and coverage. A handset that can't connect to its network from the places and routes you spend the most time is a handset (and a contract) that you wasted your money on.  It's bad enough that the iPhone is only available with AT&T's network. But for it to only be available on the slower of AT&T's two networks is even worse. Wrote the Times' Pogue of the iPhone's browser performance, "...you have to use AT&T’s ancient EDGE cellular network, which is excruciatingly slow. The New York Times’s home page takes 55 seconds to appear; Amazon.com, 100 seconds; Yahoo. two minutes. You almost ache for a dial-up modem." While at the Digital Experience event in New York City, someone (I can't remember who) said that Apple should be nailed for false advertising. Indeed,  an Apple TV ad shows the New York Times's Web site springing onto its display claiming that it's not a watered down Internet or the mobile Internet, but rather, just the Internet, on your phone. Perhaps the ad reflects what people will experience when their iPhone is connected to a Wi-Fi network: the network that they will least often be connected to.  I agree. It's false advertising.
  • A soft-keyboard: In his review, Walt Mossberg said that the soft-keyboard wasn't the problem the market anticipated it to be.  Pogue seemed to differ. Apple is known for pulling user interface rabbits out of its hat where others have failed. But, there's a reason that the current crop of successful handsets on the market all of which now have physical keys. It's because, with exception of a few people, the "soft-key" approach was a market failure. Soft-keys have proven to be problematic for people with big hands and women with long fingernails. Soft-key-only device force you to put your fingers on the display no matter what is on your fingers.  There's no tactile response to soft-keys and they're harder to manipulate with single-handed operation. These aren't my criticisms. These are the reasons that soft-keys have largely been a market failure. Here's a prediction virtually guaranteed to come true: Just as with every other handset manufacturer on the market (many of which swore-off physical keyboards until common sense got the better of them), Apple will eventually release an iPhone with a physical keyboard. Even with all the unique industrial designs on the market, when Apple introduces theirs, it will be a breakthrough. Until then, perhaps there will be a vibrant after-market for third-party provided keyboards.
  • Mothball your stereo headphones (Bluetooth, or not):  It's apparently been confirmed that the iPhone will not support the A2DP stereo bluetooth/headset profile that many other devices on the market (including the Motorola Q that I use) support.  It supports the mono (single-eared) profile instead. The A2DP profile is the one where your stereo headgear wirelessly connects to the handset via Bluetooth and it can easily alternate between listening to stereo audio (eg: your music) and taking a phone call. Typically, the way this works is, if you're listening to music and a phone call comes in, the music automatically pauses so that you can take the call and then when you're done with the call, the music resumes. Not only does the iPhone eschew state of the art Bluetooth profiles, it also eschews the standard stereo headphone jack (a mistake that even the iPod didn't make).  This is one of the simple ones that goes down in the "What the heck was Apple thinking?" department.
  • No way to expand the memory: I won't spend a lot of time on this point since I wrote a separate post about why this matters yesterday (not everyone is agreeing).  But the bottom line is that sheer capacity isn't the only issue (eg: being able to bump the $599 iPhone from 4GB to 12GB). There are other reasons removable memory makes sense. One I didn't mention yesterday is the ability to easily move files between devices.

By now, a lot of people are saying that the iPhone's breakthroughs are worth those sacrifices. There's no question that the iPhone broke through some barriers that other handset manufacturers have been unable to crack. Style of course. You will be the coolest kid on the block if you're the first to have one. User interface is the other biggie. But, when I look at my Motorola Q -- a Windows Mobile device whose user interface drove  me batty when I first got it -- the truth is that now that I know my way around the Windows Mobile UI, I'm not as bothered by it any more. It took a while, but now I know how to get to what I want on short order.  My point isn't to downplay innovation in UI design or say that the playing field eventually levels if you take the learning curve out.  My point is that, if you're considering the purchase of an iPhone, you have to look at the premium you're paying and the sacrifices you're making, and then decide if the revolutions it represents (eg: the UI) over competing devices is enough to put those competing devices out of the running.

From the same wireless provider for example (AT&T), you can get Samsung's BlackJack for $75.  It uses the faster of AT&T's two networks. It does music and videos (the screen is smaller though), has replaceable batteries, does Bluetooth stereo, and has a physical keyboard.  For $300, you can get something from AT&T with a bigger display that also supports AT&T's faster "3G" network (and that has a pop-out physical keyboard): the 8525. Here's the complete list of AT&T smartphones with cameras and bluetooth which includes a bunch of BlackBerries that can do multimedia. Then there are other great alternatives. Fellow blogger Matthew Miller runs through a decent list here.  Some may find it ugly (proving this is a fashion-buy), but Helio's Ocean is another.

Finaly, I'm not saying the iPhone is a raw deal or wouldn't be great to have. I'm just suggesting that before you go out and sink $499 or $599 into one of these, to step out of the reality distortion field for a few minutes and think about the iPhone the way you might any other product where you apply comparative common sense.  Given what else is out there, the truth of the matter is that iPhone 2.0 will probably be worth the wait.

Topics: Networking, Apple, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility, Wi-Fi

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102 comments
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  • One big missing Item in Iphone and I still want one

    Hi:

    One of the biggest items I see missing is voice commanded dialing for the unit. I have been using windows mobile devices for several years now, and though it is not perfect, the MS voice command software for the units is a godsend. I use it most when I am driving, so simple to say call mike vidal at mobile (or office etc) and the software will go through the contacts database, confirm what you just asked and and dial.

    If the iphone had this from day one, I would get it. I'm waiting for version 2 if I can keep myself under control.

    I use my fingers alot on the mobile phone I have now (8525) and hate to have to pull the stylus out, but such is how it works.

    MV
    mavidal
    • Ack

      You're one of the idiots who uses their phones in a car. Hands free or not, that's imho just stupid.
      zkiwi
      • welll...

        Why else would you need a cell phone? The only places I ever need my cell phone is in the car, or if I'm somewhere shopping/eating/drinking. At someone's house? they have a phone. At work? phone. Home? phone. lessee. 5 days a week for 8 hours per day there's work, then add in the 3 hours worth of driving, the hour to get ready, the hour of changing/bathing/eating getting home, and now we're up to 12, add 8 for sleeping, and that doesn't leave much time there for somewhere I need a cell phone.

        Cars+Cell phones=not good. But that IS their primary place of use. So if I can't use my cell phone in my car, I probably won't have a cell phone, and I'm sure others feel the same.
        evilkillerwhale@...
      • Phone use in a car

        You are one of those persons who can understand how someone else can do something you can't. With that said, there are lots and lots of people who should not be using a phone in the car. Most of them don't realize this and they are the ones you need to worry about.
        Al_nyc
      • When you are on the road a lot

        Well, just like flying a plane (I am a licensed Pilot) so like having to talk to the tower and fly in not that much different that talking on the phone while driving. You just have to be TRAINED to do it. I drive a lot as I have my own business, so this is a feature that is indispensable to me. Many times, I will tell the other party to wait a second as I asses the road situation ahead of me. They understand that I am on the road and that takes precedence over the conversation (just like flying, the plane comes first.)

        Next time, think a little before you make such a curt remark like this.

        MV
        mavidal
      • Yes, stupid and annoying but...

        You live in dreamland if you think thats going to end, or even be reduced in the upcoming years, its only going to be a bigger problem as time passes. And thats a fact.

        The iPhone does nothing to help the situation with no blue tooth and no voice command. Now we have to live with idiot iPhone users bumbling around with their phone behind the wheel.
        Cayble
      • sure. stupid.

        Talking in the car makes someone an idiot? As idiotic as conversing with a passenger, in my opinion.

        That's why when I drive, I keep my children in the trunk.
        lelandhendrix@...
  • Watching for updates

    While I can't get one now I'll be interested in watching how the iPhone
    develops over the next year. With OS X driving it the ability to update
    the iPhone is going to be important to Apple and the users. I think
    you'll see reasonably frequent updates based on user input, just like
    you do with computers.

    The batteries are not a real concern for me as I expect 3rd party
    companies to offer replacements fairly soon - just like with the iPod.
    They are generally less expensive, offer longer playing time and (with
    the tool included) are very easy to change.
    Ken_z
    • they are always easy to change...

      with the iPod, a screwdriver works just fine, and if you're careful, you won't scratch it. but I think he means the average user won't be popping in a new battery midflight or anything, seeing as you can't have the tool to open iPods (in my case anyway, the screwdriver) with you. Thx.
      evilkillerwhale@...
      • better to be able to carry a space

        Yes, if you really want to you can pop open the case and put in a new battery. But is much better to be able to carry a spare fully charged battery for those times you will not be able to charge your unit. Pretty lame for such an expensive device.
        Al_nyc
        • Spare external battery

          Carry an external battery like the ones available for the iPod. No more space than a
          regular battery. Also, why not just carry your cable and run it from the cable?since
          you need to have your charging cable with you anyways.

          That said, judging by the battery life ratings, it would seem that just charging your
          phone at night will eliminate most if not all battery life issues throughout the day.
          jscottaloi
    • Probably true..

      [b]The batteries are not a real concern for me as I expect 3rd party companies to offer replacements fairly soon - just like with the iPod. They are generally less expensive, offer longer playing time and (with the tool included) are very easy to change.[/b]

      3rd parties will, no doubt, probably offer better batteries for the iPhone - though before using one, I would seriously recommend reading all the fine print in the warranty first. There may be clauses in there voiding it should the iPhone be taken apart by anyone other than an authorized Apple technician.
      Wolfie2K3
  • iPhone 3.0 will be even better! (NT)

    NT
    Non-Zealand
    • Cats got your tongue has it? - NT

      NT
      raycote
  • Vacuums

    Comparison is good, but comparison of what exactly? Technology? Excuse me, but
    what I see happening today is the release of a phone which represents a paradigm
    shift. I think that within 5 years, the iPhone will be cited as the progenitor for what
    a personal communication device is. The potential and scope of a full OS working
    with that much dexterity on a pocket sized device, is simply amazing. What I see
    is a group of very creative people with a stellar track record, delivering a genuinely
    innovative device. I see a company prepared to take risks, and I admire that.

    Increasingly what I see from ZDNet, is protectionism. Comparisons under this
    masthead are fairly myopic dissections of feature lists. A large parade of
    advocates for a PC platform economy, lauding fake choice in a surrogate
    marketplace.

    What it amounts to is a large number of people who are completely oblivious to
    the train about to hit them. These button encrusted transformer toys you folks
    have called phones are about to get the deep six yet we get 12 blogs a day on why
    not to buy an iPhone. Got Insecurity?

    Lectures on reality distortion fields don't register when the source is so parasitic
    of that very thing. Could you think any more highly of yourselves, and while
    pondering the answer, could we know more about you. Whether it's true or not,
    the iPhone release has made this venerable institution look bought and paid for.
    Harry Bardal
    • why not demand excellence?

      sorry... I'm all for paradigm shifts and the iPhone no doubt represents one...... but that doesn't excuse Apple or anyone else from bringing those to us at the expense of some obvious sacrifices.

      db
      dberlind
      • Being Wright

        Orville and Wilbur didn't serve lobster bisque on their inaugural flight, yet they
        managed to squeak into the history books.

        On one level the iPhone is a value proposition among many value propositions. To
        focus on this to the exclusion of it's potential is hugely reductive. It betrays the
        ZDNet focus on economic systems rather than technological systems, and
        specifically the PC platform economy. The prejudices of open architecture has
        clouded many peoples judgement. The utter and complete dominance of software
        over hardware is being ignored by boys playing with toys. Phones that flip, slide
        and morph charm the Transformer fans. Limited software assigns new roles to a
        physical button to accommodate some new function? Ah, progress. Meanwhile, at
        the grownups table, Gartner issues iPhone threats and bloggers issue iPhone
        dismissals.

        iPhone 2.0 has started on day 1.0. UI to accommodate every new and varied
        application is invoked through software. Both applications we have now, and the
        applications we haven't even thought of yet. The true chameleon device just left
        the ground.

        But Ocean has GPS? Mobile can run Word? Good, they will know where they are
        when they become obsolete, and can compose a resume when left without a job.
        These circumstantial advantages are already fading bullet points on discarded
        spec sheets.

        Although you may not know it yet, today, Apple sold you a phone. It may take
        some time for delivery, it may even come with a different logo on it, it may cost a
        little more or less, it's academic. As of today "iPhones" are simply "phones".
        Welcome to Kittyhawk where excellence has the odd rough edge. Expect very
        shortly to get that in flight meal, but indentured PC platformers should be warned,
        you won't be spoon fed.
        Harry Bardal
      • Say WHAT! - You demand a new paradigm and your cake to eat it with - NT

        NT
        raycote
      • Why not demand excellence?

        To the author: Why not demand excellence? You sure don't do that from Microsoft. The question is, "Why start demanding excellence now?"

        You just don't get it... at all. In your myopic little control-click-properties world, you can't see the forest for the trees. You want an MS device and just don't understand why Apple didn't give you one. Like that's a good strategy. But it keeps small-minded people like yourself from having to think.

        If you REALLY thought about the battery, you'd realize it's a non-issue. People don't buy extra batteries to **extend** the life of their device. They buy extra batteries to change them out when their battery, with its limited hours, dies. I defy you to show me anyone - ANYONE - who's using the same cell phone more than two years later. (Two years being the expected life span of the iPhone battery. How old is your cell phone?) Apple included a battery that would last a couple of days without charging - one day at least - so there's little need to make the battery replaceable. And to recharge it all you have to do is slip into your iPod dock - which if you're like most people is always readily available (unlike a phone charger). BUT you keep harping on the fact that it's not replaceable and HOW UNACCEPTABLE THAT IS. Anyone who thinks about it knows that it's a non-issue. But keep shoving it down people's throats, because you have to complain about Apple to keep your job on ZDNet, apparently.

        And again with the expanding memory BS. The iPod - remember, this is an iPod that makes phone calls too - has never had swappable memory. You seem to think that that's a big deal too. With 8 GB, Bluetooth, and your iPod dock, who needs a swappable, losable, something else to carry memory card? Why is that even desirable (or as you put it, A DEAL-BREAKER)? Oh, because you have to have something to complain about, something that lots of Windows Mobile BS devices have because they don't do other things (like dock/Bluetooth to and exchange files with a computer) well.

        You can go on and on about the soft keyboard. You're concerned about women with long fingernails? How the h*** do they type on a Blackberry, or enter anything on a regular cell phone keyboard? Not easily. Same with the soft keyboard. Lots of people made portable MP3 devices before the iPod, with limited success. The iPod changed that. Can't you even keep your mind open to the fact that maybe the soft keyboard here works? Oh, no, never mind, forgot who I was talking to. Open mind. Silly me.

        To sum up, your complaints amount to nothing worthwhile, NEVER MIND deal breakers. Why don't you go play with your XBOX and listen to some rented WMA songs before you lose your job and can't pay your subscription to keep your music.

        This is what all your complaining is about, isn't it? Job security? No more MS payola? You're like all those "PC repair" guys who people went to looking to buy a computer. What did they recommend? Always? Windows. Job security. When people buy Windows, there will always be a need for a repairman. Those guys knew that.
        dolph0291
        • That's an impressive amount of vitriol!

          At the outset, let me say that I don't use a Windows Mobile phone. I use a generic handset that I got for free from Cingular. I don't need anything fancy.



          Now, about the battery:

          I don't know about you, but replacing the phone after two years wouldn't be a big deal [i]if the thing didn't cost me $600[/i]! I mean, seriously, in such an expensive device, a replaceable battery is a must-have. In an MP3 player, a non-replaceable battery might be acceptable, but in a phone, which most people carry as a necessity, it's definitely not. The issue isn't how easy or hard it is to charge. The issue is that all batteries eventually become unchargeable.

          Time will tell if the soft keyboard is a mistake, but it definitely seems like too radical a departure from how people really use their phones. Where's the voice-dialing? People are used to using their phones hands-free in their cars. With the iPhone, this would appear impossible. (Maybe people shouldn't drive and talk on phones, but hands-free phones are legal to drive with, and Apple should be marketing to the world as it is.)


          On the phone I have now, I have numbers assigned to contacts, so I can call with one button-push, without even looking at the phone. With the iPhone, you have to look at the phone to do any major function, and you get no tactile feedback.

          I think that the iPhone gets a lot of things right -- with the iPod functions. It really looks like a great iPod, even if you can't albums and songs individually to sync with. The iPod interface looks really impressive. Ditto with the picture and video functions. I just think that Apple really missed the boat with the [i]phone[/i] functions. What makes a great iPod doesn't necessarily make a great phone.
          bhartman33@...