"What if Microsoft bought out a product where you had to spend $30 on an accessory to make it work right and stop is from breaking?"
That's a question I received from a reader earlier today.
My reply: "I think people would go stark raving ballistic on Microsoft - and rightly so."
See, as "cool" as I think the iPhone 4 is, with its stainless steel chassis antenna and glass front and back. I can't help but feel that Apple didn't take the time to work out the kinks. As beautiful and stylish the iPhone 4 is to look at and hold, and as useful as some of the features it offers are, I can't shake that feeling that the iPhone 4 is Apple's own little "Vista" moment in tech history.
For a device that represents the flagship product of a flagship company, and which is widely regarded as the best of the best in its class of smartphones, it sure has had its fair share of problems in the short time it has been out. While Apple has been able to pre-sell enough handsets to gain a lot of traction right out of the starting blocks to ensure enough fanboy support to bury much of the bad news, Apple's obsession with form over function has lead it to create a handset that doesn't like being held a particular way, and which breaks big style with the smallest of drops (add to that the fact that glass is slippery, and that makes the risk of a fall even greater).
The fact of life is that we hold out handsets the way we hold them without giving it much thought, and sometimes we drop them. That's part and parcel of the life of a handset. What Apple seems to have done with the iPhone 4 is create a marvel of engineering that works great in concept, but fails in the real world. Sure, it's sleek, and stylish, and thin (something which seems dear to Steve Jobs), and it crams a lot of power into a small box, but it's also fragile and temperamental.
Apple needs to grasp the fact that it now not only sells a mass-market handset, but it's selling it to a massive market, and these people aren't necessarily Apple fanboys or zealots. These people buy a product because they believe that it is the best in its class. Preaching to people about how to hold their handsets, selling $30 strips of rubber, or spewing technical specs on the glass used is not good enough. People want a product that they can trust, and that has had the kinks worked out before going to market.
Hype aside, the iPhone 4 feels like a device that's not been properly field tested. Durability and reception issues should have been worked out long before the device went to market. Apple's dropped the ball here, but because of the hype, it's unlikely that the market will punish it for the mistakes.
On a more positive note, I think the kinks will be worked out by iPhone 5 ...
There's an important lesson here for Microsoft and its handset OEM partners, and it's a simple one: Don't screw up!