I continue to be amazed that Apple does so well with such crappy products. The iPod, in particular, really astonishes me. Conventional wisdom would see a crappy device like the iPod flop badly what with its hefty price, surprising lack of features, terrible user interface and bloated iTunes software. And yet it is the most popular portable MP3 player on the planet.
Apple lovers will naturally want to tell me that I “don’t get it”, but really I do and so does Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs knows the average consumer is dumb and will buy things because they look nice, not because they are any good. Using his amazing reality distortion field, Steve successfully convinced people the iPod was sexy and cool. Features? Ease of use? Bah! As long it makes you think you got bling. In a way, I guess the Apple fanbois are right. I don’t get it. I don’t get how people can be so stupid.
The iPhone will be sold the exact same way as the iPod. I guarantee there will be television ads with attractive young people bouncing around and talking to each other, listening to iTunes and watching videos (but not trading them, no, that would be wrong). It’s all about the lifestyle.
Before I go into the faults with the iPhone, let’s start with what Apple did right with it: its appearance. The unit is attractive and simple. It runs MacOSX, which always looks good. It has a big 3.5 inch colour screen that covers most of the unit.
The idea of the big screen is nothing new, of course. The Palm company figured all this out like ten years ago with their original PDAs. These days their offerings are very functional, but also kinda ugly. Apple knows that people find the appearance of something like a Blackberry or a Palm Treo revolting because it has lots of little buttons. So their smartphone is the complete opposite — it has no buttons. Everything is on the screen, just like in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The problem is what is sooo cool about the iPhone is also what is wrong with it.
It Has No Little Keys
The little keys might be ugly, but they are functional. To answer a flat-phone you press the green key with your thumb — a lot of users can do this without looking. Answering a flip-phone is even easier — you open it. To answer the iPhone you will have to orient it properly, look at it, and press the answer button on the screen.
A lot of people I know who are into texting with cellphones or Blackberries don’t need to look at the keypad because their fingers can feel the movement from one key to the next. With the iPhone, you don’t get that. You will have to look at the little on-screen Qwerty keyboard to press a key. The little, touch-sensitive on-screen keyboard is also small. Users of the iPhone are going to have to remember to bring along a stylus, a pen, a toothpick or something. Or evolve smaller, pointier fingers.
The Screen is Gonna Get Dirty
Touching an LCD with greasy little fingers makes it dirty. This is why users of PDAs and Smartphones use styli, rather than their fingers. The iPhone has no stylus as near as I can tell. In particular, the bottom part of that screen where the “end call” button, “slide to unlock” control and text keyboard are located is going to require constant cleaning.
The Screen is Gonna Get Scratched
The screen is going to get scratched to shit bouncing around inside people’s pockets and purses. This is why flip-phones are so popular. Hopefully Apple will have the good sense to coat it with something hard or sell it along with some kind of pouch or wallet. Unfortunately, this brings us to the next problem.
As smartphones go, its size is average, but as cellphones go, it’s big. It is slightly larger than a regular iPod and considerably larger than an iPod Nano. It will be even bigger if they put it into a protective wallet or carrier or something. If they really want to break into the mainstream phone market they are going to have to come up with something smaller. I know! The iPhone Nano!
Its Battery Life is Poor
This could be the biggest problem of all for the iPhone. There’s no data on how long it will go for on standby, but one presumes the whole purpose of the thing is so you can surf the web, watch videos, or listen to your tunes wherever you might be. But only for five hours (sixteen for audio). To put this in perspective, I have to charge my cellphone once a week, not once a day. I think I put my old m500 Palm PDA on the charging stand like once every couple of weeks.
Running out of juice quickly is not cool for a pocket gadget. As Scoble points out, when you run out of juice, not only have you lost your MP3 player, you have also lost your phone. Users of the iPhone will have to resign themselves to bringing along a charger. Or a backup cellphone.
You Have the Choice of Only One Cellphone Network
And that network is the dreaded Cingular. The phone will only work on their GSM network. Need I say more?
It Costs Too Much
$600 bucks for a smartphone is a lot of money. Even Treos cost less. But then again, Apple has always been about extracting as much money as they can from their customers, even when the product is only ho-hum. They did it for years with the Mac, they do it now with the iPod, so I suppose this comes as no surprise.
It may look cool, but the iPhone does not strike me as particularly practical. The use of the screen for everything, the poor battery life and the lack of network selection are not features I would want in a smartphone. Regardless of what I think, I’m sure they are going to sell millions of them to people who must have the coolest toys. But as I said before, the average consumer is stupid.