A heavy load for the iPhone to bear

It's sleek and it's sexy, but still must contend with issues from price to typing speed and wireless realities.

There's little debate about the aesthetic appeal of Apple's iPhone. But sometimes, beauty is just skin deep.

Tuesday's introduction of the iPhone at Macworld was long on glitz, but short on details. Little is known about the technical workings of the iPhone. There are also a lot of questions about Apple's entry into a competitive market full of large companies far more established than the MP3 player firms that got flattened by the iPod.

Apple, in typical fashion, has not responded to requests for further details or briefings from executives about some of these points, and the iPhone is not expected to become available until June. But the details could mean the difference between history viewing the iPhone as a perfect melding of phone and media player--or as a limited, proprietary device that can't be expanded and won't live up to its hype.

Here's a list of issues Apple could face when the iPhone hits store shelves:

OS X: During his keynote speech, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the iPhone runs "OS X." What he didn't say is how stripped down that version will be.

Apple has a remarkably good development environment in general, but it's unclear how much flexibility it will give to iPhone programmers. How much work would it take to alter a simple game, spreadsheet or text editor for OS X to run on the iPhone? Or will the iPhone be as closed as the iPod? Can existing JavaScript-based widgets for OS X be used without any modification, which some developers believe is likely? A search for "iPhone" on Apple's official developer Web site turns up nothing.

Applications: What types of applications are going to be available for the iPhone? Even if Mac applications can be ported to the iPhone, will they have to be redesigned for the screen size and storage requirements of the phone? It's unclear if Apple will support popular third-party mobile applications beyond the ones from its buddies at Google and Yahoo, such as Skype voice over Internet Protocol calling, which could be a big hit given that the iPhone has built-in Wi-Fi.

It doesn't appear that Apple is targeting corporate customers with the iPhone, but executives and salespeople have so far been the biggest smart-phone customers, at least in the U.S. Will Apple support push e-mail software from Research In Motion or Motorola's Good Technology? Yahoo mail users will be able to have their e-mail delivered directly to their phones, but that's probably not enough for a traveling CEO not named Steve Jobs.

Battery life:Apple said the iPhone will have a battery life of "up to five hours" when used for phone calls, video playback and Web browsing, and "up to 16 hours" for audio playback. But the company did not answer a key question: What about standby time? And is the battery sealed like the iPod or easily replaceable, like most mobile phones?

Also, five hours of talk time seems a trifle short when compared with the humble Sony Ericsson W810i, another phone that uses Cingular's EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) network and claims "up to nine hours" of talk time and "up to 30 hours of music playing." Do the rich graphics used on the iPhone and the full operating system require more power to operate than a stripped-down operating system would? Which applications processor is Apple using inside the iPhone?

Networking: Apple said the iPhone will use Cingular's EDGE network technology. Cingular said it offers "typical speeds of 75Kbps (kilobits per second) to 135Kbps." That puts it in the same range as a dial-up connection (a little faster, but far from broadband speeds). The odd thing is that Cingular offers a speedier 3G, or third-generation, wireless service--speeds of 400Kbps to 700Kbps with bursts over 1 megabit per second--in dozens of metropolitan areas called BroadbandConnect (also known as HSDPA). ThinkPad laptops announced a year ago use it; so does a Palm Treo 750 announced this week. Why doesn't Apple's iPhone?

The built-in Wi-Fi connection will help consumers get faster access to data in their homes or businesses. But the whole point of mobile broadband is to have fast access to data outside of a hot spot. And EDGE support isn't going to fly outside the U.S., where smart-phone users are accustomed to network speeds almost as fast as DSL and cable modem lines in the U.S.

Touch screen: The touch screen scrolling used on the iPhone is an intuitive way of navigating--flick your index finger toward the top of the screen to scroll up, flick down to scroll down. The lack of buttons--except for the home button--also fits in nicely with Apple's minimalist design ethos and will allow the company to use the same basic hardware footprint for a wide variety of programmable devices.

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