No doubt by now you’ve seen and heard of the iPhone. It was announced yesterday and already is engulfed in a full media blitz. This is to be expected. If the iPhone is 1/10th as revolutionary as it appears to be, a signifigant portion of the cell phone industry just got a huge wake up call.
Personally, I don’t like Apple that much. I’m not a big fan of their computer hardware and I feel that iPods are perhaps the single most over rated product of the last 5 years. Their locked down nature far outweighs their usefulness. That said, I’m not a Windows fanboy either. Actually, I could give you a long list of things I find wrong and patently offensive in Vista (but I won’t, you’re welcome). I have no sworn allegience to any camp or group. My sole obsession with technology is for it to work and be used easily as I see fit.
WIth that said, I really like the iPhone, from a consumer and a tech savvy point of view. It really is going to “reinvent the phone”. It’s not without it’s negatives however. My thoughts after the jump…
My thoughts on the iPhone basically fall into two categories: initial impressions and things not discussed. Having slept on it, and thinking about it fresh today, I find that there are a large number of questions I have about implementation, services and a lot of the technical aspects. This is in stark contrast to my initial reaction yesterday as I watched the keynote speech.
My initial thought is that this is truly a revolutionary cell phone, and I’ll stand behind that. A giant, full screen touch sensitive display, built in iPod, email, text and web browsing, all thrown on top of a very slick interface. Add to that the phone features of quad-band GSM, bluetooth, wifi and a 2mpx camera and you have a very attractive package. This, ostensibly, replaces everything in your pocket with one ultra-slick device. I keep saying “slick” because that’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think about it. It’s not super-powerful, it’s not micro-thin, it’s not the ultimate pda, it’s just slicker than snot and looks like it’s easy to use.
There are a lot of features I really like. The OS for one (which I’ll elaborate on in a minute) appears very uncluttered, intuitive and very much an Apple UI design. It just works like it’s supposed to, and that’s a big plus for them. Also, the incorporation of things like wifi and google maps and the web surfing make it a very attractive web device and a platform for future expansion, especially for people like me who live in areas that are getting city wide wifi in the next few years. Houston specifically is going to see it rolled out starting this year and a considerable amount more in 2008. This could be huge for me.
Basically, for me, this is a complete evolution of my current phone. Not the small incremental upgrade like T-Mobile and Danger are trying to push as the Sidekick III. This is a giant leap in cell phone technology, and needs to be viewed as such.
So, as a phone, I really like it’s features. I like the form factor, I like it’s size, and the touch screen is obviously incredibly nifty. I also like all the little “Apple touches”, like sliding your finger across the screen to unlock the phone, something you wouldn’t be able to do accidentally in your pocket.
After my inital reaction and I had calmed down from my “geeking out”, I started to ask myself some questions that hadn’t been answered in the keynote. Some of these are more observations than concerns and some of these might get ironed out in a hands on tech review from someplace like Engadget, who I’m sure are just wetting themselves trying to get one of these.
First is that the OS, above all else, is really showing it’s Linux based scalability on this phone. Apple hates to admit it, but OSX is very much based in Linux. I will give them credit for creating a very beautiful UI (it’s one of the things I believe Apple does best), but when you get right down to it, there’s a lot of Linux in there. A shit-ton. After seeing this phone and hearing Steve describe it as “OSX on a phone”, I had to cry foul. It’s not. It’s a mini-linux distro on a phone. It really is. Linux is the ONLY thing that could scale that well. I’m willing to bet that if OSX is, give or take, approximately 70% Linux based, this is well up into the 90’s. It’s super optimized, beautifully skinned, but it’s still Linux. It has to be. There’s no way they created a separate OS just for the phone.
Another point about the OS that I started thinking about is that while it upholds the Apple principals of design, it doesn’t look very much like any previous product. Apple typically doesn’t do “dark” interfaces. This looks more Adobe CS3 and, dare I say it, Vista inspired. Now, I don’t want to get into a “Vista is ripping off OSX, so OSX is ripping off Vista” debate, because I don’t think it’s that. What I am saying is that bright colored buttons on dark and GLASS looking backgrounds isn’t anything new, and it’s something that is very “Web 2.0” and familiar. Vista is trying to do it, Adobe is trying to do it (look at Apature and Lightroom) and I think Apple, seeing all this, went with the crowd. Be honest, when you heard “iPhone” you thought it was going to be white, didn’t you? I did. I figured it would be soft white plastic with big smiley icons and that blue swirly background. I was pleasently surprised. I think this is a much more universal design that doesn’t tie Apple and the iPhone down as being “a big iPod”. That’s a good thing.
While all this was stewing in my brain, about a million articles have been written about the phone, most of them pointed geek pieces about how much they just “filled the cup” when they saw this thing. One article however focused on how this would kill the downloadable ring tone buisness. First, let me just say that the ringtone buisness NEEDS to die. It’s a horrible, evil, bullshit scam and I don’t think we should have accepted it as consumers for as long as we have. However, not once in the entire keynote did anyone mention MP3s as ringtones. Not once. I have a horrible feeling that it’s not going to happen. Tons of cell phones can use whole songs and MP3s as ringtones, but very very few (read: none) of them can simply be loaded on the phone, they all need to be purchased and downloaded via the phone. Even the iTunes phones are like that. It also doesn’t help that Cingular is their sole provider for the first two years. They’re the biggest whores of the whole downloadable content for cell phones. You honestly think that Cingular is going to let Apple sell a wide open, unlocked phone and not get a slice of the music pie? This is all speculation at this point though. We won’t know until someone digs deep into the phone to find out. All I’m saying is that I’m not going to get my hopes up. There’s a very real possibility that there are two different sections of storage for the phone. The hard drive for the iPod portion and then separate memory for the phone. We’ll have to see how easily we can change in between the two.
The last thing I wanted to talk about was iTunes and the device synchronization. Yesterday it was mentioned that using this device was as easy and syncing and charging your iPod. That all your data could be transfered via iTunes. I have a huge huge problem with that. iTunes is the bane of my existence. I refuse to use it. It’s the biggest part of the closed loop system that is Apple and the music industry. You want an iPod you HAVE to use iTunes. I have a problem with hardware dictating my software. I have a Canon camera, does that mean I have to use Canon Photo Editor instead of Photoshop? No, of course not. Where my real problem lies is in email and contacts. How are those going to be synced with this phone? Through iTunes? I hope not.
What I don’t think they realize is that if they’re going to make this a true mobile internet device, it’s going to get used by people in business. People who’s offices run Exchange servers, Novell, Outlook, etc. Then there is the 90% of the planet that’s still using Outlook Express. Are you telling me that this thing won’t sync with your Outlook contacts? That you’ll have to import everything into iTunes? There’s not a serious business minded person on this planet that is going to use iTunes as they’re office communication software. It’s not going to happen. So, what are the possible solutions? Well, iTunes could just be a pass through software. All your email stays in Outlook and iTunes simply grabs it and put it on your phone for you… wait, what planet is this? Oh yeah, Microsoft would never allow that (or at the very least make it easy) to happen, not in a million years. Well, what about open standards, like ical and the Mozilla office tools (Thunderbird, Lightning and Sunbird)? Sure, if you want 2% of the market being about to sync.
This is a serious problem. They can’t use exclusively iTunes for everything. That would have iTunes the biggest piece of bloated software in the history of software. Far eclipsing things like Office 2000 and Norton System Works in terms of their resource hogging and uselessness. So, if you can’t use iTunes, then it needs to be wide open, to sync with everything. That will never happen either. If it’s one thing Apple loves, it’s closed loops.
My guess is that we’ll see a new, feature heavy iTunes or even an iTunes office tool by summer. It would make more sense to separate the programs into a music managment system and a “sync tool”. However, that doesn’t seem to ever be Apple’s MO. I’m betting on one big piece of bloatware to handle everything.
That brings us to the end and the summation. Deep down, as a geek, I like the iPhone a lot. Realistically, I’m never going to buy one. Basically because I don’t want to be inside that loop of Apple products, unable to do what I really want. Remember, I’m not Apple bashing. I think they have a seriously revolutionary phone here. I think this will really shake up the market. That, in the end, is what I hope comes out of this. I hope other companies take a look at this and up the anty. I really want to see Nokia, Motorola, Samsung and the like come out with guns blazing. If we get super phones like this from every company, the world is going to be a much better place.
So, good job Apple. You just gave the cell phone industry the wake up call it’s needed for the past 10 years… but I’m still not biting. Not yet. Prove me wrong and I’ll swallow the red pill and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.