The iPhone, At Long Last

After a couple of stressful meetings (which reminded me of the need for an entire consulting discipline termed Change Management), a reassuring dinner and finding out that my web server was being pounded into oblivion as a direct consequence of the Apple keynote, I settled down to mull the iPhone.

The server is still taking a pounding, but the elves are at work fixing things and this post should be public soon. This sort of thing happens on every Apple event, really, but it looks like this time some things got broken beyond immediate repair. My apologies.

Lots of people will ramble on about how there practically wasn't anything else on besides the iPhone and the iTV and how it affected their bingo scores, but I'd like to pick up something I wrote back in, oh, 2003 or so and which has remained during the many years of the iPhone saga -

"I personally find the notion of Apple doing a mobile phone somewhat ridiculous, since there is no clear intersection between the two target markets and there is already far too much bloat on phones. Furthermore, Apple would have to deal with a lot of regulatory (and technology) issues that are not part of their core business, and they would never be able to control the entire user experience from the moment they attached something to a carrier."

Steve, in his very own way, didn't care about intersecting markets. He just went ahead and created a whole new one, in much the same way as the iPod re-defined the MP3 player category.

Like he himself put it, the killer app is making calls. And the iPhone (despite bringing nothing truly new in terms of call handling) makes it fun to make calls, very much like the iPod makes it fun to listen to music.

And believe me, ripples are spreading throughout the telco industry as a result of this. Every operator on the planet must be ringing up their local Apple contacts by tomorrow morning.

Furthermore, Apple has shown that they don't care about conventions. For instance, take trademarks. Even as I type this, more than a few people (including Om, who posted on it) have mentioned Cisco's, er... "previous ownership" of the brand name.

The Thing Itself

Again, Apple made the experience seamless. I won't go into the touch screen, or the mass of patents behind it, or the size and weight.

But I will state that I'm very grateful to them for finally delivering a major argument for having a headphone jack in a music phone. As in an industry argument, not the common sense "people want it" argument that I (and many others) have been defending for years. Now that Apple has done it on a phone, SonyEricsson and Nokia have to come to their senses - or else.

This might seem a minor thing for those people not into the mobile business, but believe me, it's a biggie to me and many others.

I'd love to have a plain USB connector too, but I understand having the iPod connector takes precedence (maybe someone will come up with a small adapter that saves me the trouble of carrying an iPod cable). And I love the Bluetooth headset accessory, too.

The Apps

Safari knocks the socks off pretty much everything else right now (just as the Nokia WebKit browser did when it was introduced), so I won't go on about it except that say the screen rotation and zooming are something that I expect to see duplicated by a zillion wannabes, patents or not.

The IMAP client seems great (although I hope it doesn't share much code with, and the free IMAP IDLE "push" e-mail bundle is interesting, since it completely sidesteps .Mac. And that's just odd, considering that we haven't heard a peep regarding .Mac during the entire keynote. Nor was there any mention of calendaring or OTA syncing, so I guess Blackberry isn't completely dead yet.

And let's be realistic here - there's a bunch of people doing moderately decent web browsing and mapping out there, and iPhone hasn't made them completely obsolete - but it has just raised the bar beyond what most people expected, including the rumor mongers.

So, What's Not To Love?

Well, the obvious bit is that it's US-only for now, and GSM/EDGE. Sure, it's quad band, but most new smartphones in similar price ranges in Europe are 3G (and some HSDPA). Sure, there's no device you can compare directly to the iPhone (what with the storage, the feature set and all), but it's something to keep in mind.

GSM still represents the vast majority of phones, but 3G is the way to connect wirelessly here in Europe (this is one of the reasons why). Sure, that will also have an impact on battery life (and, incidentally, 5 hours of talk time is quite a bit short, even if this looks like the first "iPod" with a removable battery).

In the meantime, the jury's still out on whether the batteries are actually removable or not - some say yea, some say nay. My view? It would be extremely disappointing if one were to pay US$599 (or $799, which is probably closer to the true cost) for something that would require servicing at an Apple centre to swap batteries.

The other aspect is the way it seems tied to Cingular - namely the voicemail application, which implies there will be some integration effort involved for other operators. Not a biggie, but then again there's a whole bunch of operator-specific settings that have to be set on any phone for it to work properly - voice will always work (except for stuff like conference calling and specific USSD codes for prepaid), stuff like SMS, MMS (which, incidentally, wasn't mentioned, despite the 2 megapixel camera), or plain Internet access just won't work.

Of course, Apple can sell it unlocked, but then there will be a gap in terms of support - most operators have a hard time already supporting unlocked Windows smartphones that people want to use on their networks, and I expect that Apple will have to tackle that head-on when they start shipping European units. That and localization, which is a big issue for text input of any kind.

Then there's the user experience bit. Most operators want to control the phone user experience as much as possible (for obvious reasons), and I can't see Apple giving in much (Cingular is very flexible in that regard, as far as I'm aware, plus they've got a long standing relationship with Apple).

But those are all solvable problems - and I can't wait to make the final result the centre piece of my mobile life.