In case you hadn’t noticed, a couple of weeks back it was Macworld – Apple‘s annual expo – and Apple Inc. (no longer Apple Computer Inc.) announced that they are going to make a phone. Whoopy do. It even made news at the huge Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Except that it won’t be available until Summer 2007 (as it has to get regulatory approval).
So why am I so underwhelmed with the iPhone? Firstly, I’m not underwhelmed – I think it sounds like a great device, as long as (when it arrives) it delivers everything that Apple is promising:
“iPhone combines three products – a revolutionary mobile phone, a widescreen iPod with touch controls, and a breakthrough Internet communications device with desktop-class email, web browsing, maps, and searching – into one small and lightweight handheld device.”
Except that it will cost a small fortune in the US, isn’t yet complete, is likely to be severely restricted in terms of third party application development, doesn’t yet appear on the Apple UK website (so I can assume it won’t be here for a while yet, if at all) and I can already get a device from a number of manufacturers that does most of that today (and for which I can develop my own mobile applications) running the Windows Mobile operating system (other mobile operating systems are available).
It seems to me that Apple is learning (as Microsoft has been for a few years now) that mobile telecommunications is a cut-throat business. Apple has gone through the pain of negotiating with record labels (and more recently with movie studios) and has made a name in digital media – Microsoft is just learning how hard that is. Now it’s Apple’s turn for hard lessons – to find out that telcos don’t want what consumers want – instead, they want to control the platform, lock down functionality, introduce their own unique selling points, and encourage customers to upgrade to the next greatest device, in the process locking themselves into another lucrative airtime contract, as soon as the current one ends.
Apple also launched a wireless access point/hub/NAS device/print server/NAT firewall – that sounds great except it uses a wireless standard that’s not ratified yet (IEEE 802.11n) and which my 6-month old Intel Core Duo Mac cannot use at full speed (only the Core 2 Duo models can be upgraded via a firmware flash).
They also launched a set top box for streaming media. Except that it works by synchronising with an iTunes library and it only has a 40GB hard disk (my audio collection alone is 40GB and that’s before I download any video content – a feature not yet available from the iTunes Store in the UK). It’s also limited to the formats that Apple offers, so doesn’t support other widely used formats such as DivX (or, of course, any of the competing Windows Media formats). Finally, streaming high definition video needs high bandwidth and the wired Ethernet ports are limited to 100Mbps whilst wireless throughput is likely to be even lower (even with 802.11n)
Cut through the hype and Macworld 2007 was a huge disappointment to me. I would have bought a new 80GB (120GB would be nice) iPod with a wide format touch screen but I don’t want the rest of the iPhone features. I would also have paid for a replacement iSight (as the old one was withdrawn from sale in Europe last summer due to new regulations on the restriction of hazardous substances and has now disappeared from sale in the US too) and if anyone doubts that there is a market for iSights as new MacBooks and iMacs have them built in, Mac Mini and Mac Pro users still want a webcam that works with iChat AV and dedicating a DV camcorder to the task is a huge waste, whilst the original iSights are changing hands on eBay for more than they cost new (I just bought one this evening – so there’s bound to be a new one announced soon…).
Even the Apple fanboys at Mac Break Weekly are talking of “the Steve Jobs reality distortion field” and referring to Macworld 2007 as “This Week in Vapourware”.