Thirteen reasons to doubt the iPhone hype

iPhone, you got some explainin' to do.

Tim Moynihan
7 min read

The honeymoon is over for the iPhone.

It's not that we're sick of it already (well, maybe a bit), it's just time for it to answer some questions. Otherwise, it may join the Sony PS3 in the realm of "tech that looks absolutely amazing but is far too expensive for most people to even consider buying."

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Here, accompanied by rambling speculation, are those questions:

1. Why no 3G compatibility? The answer might be as simple as the fact that Cingular's 3G coverage still has gaping holes outside of major U.S. cities.

The 3G question is very pertinent to those who want to stream video and audio to their phone at any time. But that requires living in an area with great 3G network coverage, and 3G will drain a battery faster than the 2.5G EDGE network.

2. Does the lack of 3G matter if the iPhone has Wi-Fi? If the user wants to only occasionally stream media or download files, the iPhone's Wi-Fi capabilities should scratch that itch...but only if you're at a Wi-Fi hot spot and not using it in the backseat of a car, on the train, or sitting on a park bench. And Wi-Fi will have just as much--probably more--of a draining effect on the iPhone's battery.

3. What's under the hood? Nobody knows for sure. According to this Information Week article, the iPhone is likely have a Samsung CPU and video processor.

If it's true, this may help explain the similarity in specs between the Samsung BlackJack and the Apple iPhone. For what it's worth, the BlackJack performed very well in our Web browsing and video tests.

4. Can you download directly from iTunes? This looks to be a big disappointment with the iPhone. Early reports, such as this iTWire interview with Apple's VP of iPod Products Greg Joswiak, say no.

From the iTWire article:

The Apple VP also quashed any speculation that the iPhone itself may house a self-contained version of iTunes. "iTunes was designed to exist on the Mac and PCs. That's where the music should live."

Don't tell me where my music should and should not live, homeboy! I want it to live on my iPhone!

Regardless of where my music wants to live, if Apple is touting the iPhone as a device that runs Mac OS X, doesn't that make the iPhone a Mac? Which brings us to the next question...

5. Just what does Apple mean by "it runs OS X"? And what do they mean by "multitasking"? During his keynote address, Steve Jobs mentioned the ability to multitask as one of Mac OS X's strong suits, as well as a reason why the operating system was chosen for the iPhone.

Given the lack of 3G compatibility, that "multitasking" must be limited to applications within Mac OS X, not "multitasking" in the sense of being able to download a file while talking on the phone. That's the kind of "multitask" that 3G networks are built to do.

Which begs the question: Who will really multitask between OS X applications on a mobile, touch screen device? At what point will anyone be simultaneously typing a document, formulating a spreadsheet, and composing a song on GarageBand on the iPhone?

Playing media content while surfing the Web is technically multitasking, but it's possible that the iPhone will only be able to perform one of its three main functions at any given time: It's either an iPod, an "Internet device," or a phone, but it may not be able to do more than one function at a time.

That doesn't sound like a big deal right now, but it could lead to an embarrassing situation if you're using your iPhone as a jukebox at a party when a call comes in.

In all probability, the iPhone will run a watered-down version of OS X, with built-in restrictions on how the operating system can be used. No full iTunes. Probably no Skype or VoIP phone calls. It may be able to run "desktop-class applications and software," as Apple's iPhone site purports, but that's not the same thing as actual desktop applications.

6. Will it actually be called the iPhone?
Not if Cisco has anything to say about it.

Will it be the iPhod? The iCell? The iThing? The iCaramba?

And will the iPhone have the same appeal with a different name? It might. After all, the name "iPod" doesn't exactly scream "music!"

7. Who's this phone for, anyway? Who can afford this thing?
This answer is simple: Paris Hilton.

The iPhone looks to be the next glamour phone, albeit one with serious potential. It's billed as a "smart phone," which brings to mind business users. At $599 for the 8GB model and $499 for the 4GB model, it's definitely priced for business users.

But as Tom Krazit and Declan McCullagh kindly point out:

  1. Yahoo e-mail isn't going to cut it in the business world.
  2. It's unknown which business applications will be available for the iPhone.
  3. Will there be file-compatibility issues between the iPhone and Windows-centric businesses? Remember, the Vista age is almost upon us, and even next-generation Windows programs may have issues with files created in older versions.

If you add everything up, the iPhone looks like a starter smart phone for twentysomethings who just got a fat raise. It could even be compared to a touch screen Sidekick 3 Pro. At least the Sidekick has a mini-SD card slot so that you can expand its storage capacity, which brings us to...

8. Will Apple give the user any freedom? Want to know why there's no memory card slots on the iPhone, nor will there likely be a user-replaceable battery?

Because Apple doesn't want you to lay a finger on its phone without paying the piper.

Anyone who owns an iPod knows how hard it is to replace the battery, replace a dead hard drive, or fix the thing without going through Apple. Anyone who owns a Mac computer also knows how hard it is to upgrade any internal components without going through Apple. If you can figure out how to do these things yourself, you'll break the warranty. If you go through Apple, you'll probably have to give them more money in the process.

The iPhone is likely to be no different. To fix it, you'll probably have to bring it to an Apple Store. To expand it, you'll probably have to buy a new iPhone.

Note: iPhones are still expensive.

While we're on the topic of user freedom, what about the software aspect of the phone? It's unknown whether users will be able to write their own software or run third-party programs on the iPhone without breaking the warranty. It's quite possible that the iPhone's only programs will be Apple iPhone programs.

9. How much more than the unit price will the iPhone cost? As expensive as the iPhone is, it may get insanely unaffordable once you add in the monthly charges. To get the most out of the iPhone, you'll likely need a voice plan, a data plan, and possibly Cingular's own Wi-Fi plan.

Cingular has special data plans for its BlackBerry phones, and it's possible, if not likely, that the iPhone will have its own special plan prices.

But if that's not the case, be prepared to pay through the nose. If you look at the costs of Cingular's low-end voice plan (450 minutes/month for $39.99), unlimited data plan ($44.99/month), and unlimited Wi-Fi plan ($99.99/month), you may need to tack on an extra $100 to $200 per month to use your iPhone to the fullest.

Also of note: Cingular charges a $175 fee for early contract termination.

10. Is this another iLock-in strategy? The iPhone is the only phone that runs Mac OS X, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. Judging from the iPod's seamless, user-friendly integration with iTunes, Apple is sure to unveil iPhone-management programs that make managing contact info and other data as painless as possible. And that might actually be the problem.

Imagine this: You buy an iPhone, you manage all your iPhone's data on your computer--contacts, music, files--and your iPhone kicks the bucket...dead battery, iPhone icon with x-ed-out eyes, whatever.

What now? Unless there are third-party programs to send your data to another phone, the easiest way--and possibly the only way--to get all that data onto another phone will be to buy another iPhone.

Note: iPhones are still expensive.

11. Just how useful is the touch screen? The iPhone user interface looks elegant, innovative, and easy-to-use, but is it the best interface for a device like this?

Whenever you do anything, the iPhone will command your full visual attention. "No buttons" may be sexy, but it also means you can't do anything without looking at the phone.

The iPhone's iPod usability may suffer even worse from the touch screen. Have you ever tried to operate an iPod while it's in your pocket? You can do it, but it's hard. The iPhone will make blind iPod-surfing downright impossible.

That said, it looks like the iPhone will eliminate accidental pocket-dialing once and for all.

12. Will early adopters be the only adopters? If the iPhone takes the world by storm, other manufacturers and carriers will borrow the iPhone's most popular features. And they'll probably offer them at a lower price.

13. What goes into a cell-phone purchase? Cell phones aren't MP3 players. Even if Apple has the sexiest phone out there, many important factors come into play when anyone buys a cell phone.

  • How pleased is the user with the carrier?
  • What other phones are out there?
  • What will the phone primarily be used for?
  • How important is it to have the "it" phone of the moment? And is price no object?

Apple seems to be banking on the last factor being the most important. But is having "it" it? If so, the iPhone may simply be iRon pyrite.