Ah, more iPhone news, and of course, the Internet is a-twitter over it. Apple has now given us a release date (June 29th), and a series of commercials showing off the iPhone. Of course, this is feeding the echo chamber that’s been set up around the iPhone, with the usual two camps forming: “It’s going to be the best thing since breathable air!” on one side, and “It’s going to be the greatest failure since the Titanic! Jobs is going down!” on the other.
Of course, everyone’s forgetting the…minor issue that no one knows what’s going on yet. The Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference is happening in less than a week, and you can’t buy one until the end of June. So the idea that the iPhone will be better or worse than current devices is based on specifications, some video, and speculation. Of those three, only one is trustworthy. The other two are too limited to be of any serious use, and in the case of speculation, less reliable than asking the cat.
For example, the, (to some) simply huge issue of “Apple’s not letting third parties develop software for it, it’s doomed” is, quite literally based on nonsense.
First, neither Steve Jobs, nor anyone at Apple with any authority has said this. What they have said is that they’re going to tightly control any third party developer access.
Note that “tightly control” and “not allow at all” are not the same thing. While I’m sure that to many, they are almost synonyms, my own experience with unfettered third-party applications on a phone makes me less…positive about that idea than many. For example, my personal phone is a Sprint PPC-6601. Nice phone, big screen. However, thanks to a third party application (Newsbreak as it happens), there were times when the phone part of my phone wouldn’t work. In fact, regular times. It would happen after I had a call drop for whatever reason. I’d try to redial and the instant I hit the button, I’d get a popup saying the call could not be completed as dialed.
The only ways to fix it were to reboot the phone, or, bounce the radio stack by putting it in flight mode and then taking it out of flight mode. Of course, the latter option had the fun benefit of immediately dialing the number I’d been trying to call and giving me just enough time to say “Wait, phone’s being dumb, I’ll ca-“. Note that the OS hadn’t crashed, but the phone was unable to function as a phone. When you’re talking about something you bought as a “smart” phone, that’s unacceptable. But hey, it’s a small price to pay for the benefits of unfettered third party development, right? The situation with the Palm OS is even worse, since you could get poorly-written software that would send the phone into a constant soft reset loop. Joy. Luckily, in my case, deleting Newsbreak has fixed the issue completely.
Not that it’s just third party software. The Camera on my 6601 pushes the screen backlighting up to max, but when I quit out of it, or even switch out of it, the brightness doesn’t fall back to what I had it set at. Nice, watch my battery die. The story on other phones seems to be the same. Razrs that crash when you try to use the supplied AIM client, and I’ve heard similar on the Symbian side. Unfettered third party development is a nice theory, but thus far, the implementation has been lacking. So really, I’ve no problem with Apple moving slowly here. I know I’m a fogey, but I really get snippy when my phone won’t work because my newsreader is eating all the resources. That’s not A Good Thing.
Another huge issue is that Apple hasn’t announced built-in Exchange connectivity, so businesses will completely ignore it. Okay, I know what I’m about to say is going to traumatize a lot of people, but I feel it must be said: Exchange is not the alpha and omega of messaging and groupware. Those of you with the vapors, please, do sit and drink some cold water.
Seriously, I work in an Exchange shop, I know how important Exchange connectivity can be, but again, we don’t know the full story, and even if Apple doesn’t ship it with an Exchange client, so what? Prior to Windows Mobile 5, Exchange 2003, and AKU3, Over The Air (OTA), connectivity on Windows Mobile devices was, well, I’ll be nice and say it was “sub-optimal”. Goodlink didn’t become a wildly popular product because out of the box OTA access to Exchange was the bomb-diggity on Windows Mobile devices and Treos.
As well, with Microsoft pushing Web Services as the “new” way to connect to Exchange 2007, and the fact that Apple is shipping a decent browser with the iPhone (certainly better than what’s shipped up through Windows Mobile 5, and infinitely better than what comes on Treos), there’s going to be at least one way that will be mildly tedious, and a potentially not-tedious way to talk to Exchange.
However, there is a rather huge amount of people who want email and web access on their phone, and don’t give a ding-dong about Exchange connectivity. They want something more than what you get with say, a Razr, but they either don’t have, or don’t need, Exchange connectivity. For them, the iPhone is a great device.
The price is a non-issue. The iPhone is hardly the most expensive phone ever released in its class. I paid, with rebates, about $400 for my PPC-6601, and when the 6700 came out, it certainly wasn’t dirt cheap. If you remember when the Razr first appeared, they weren’t exactly giving it away in boxes of Tide either.
Same thing with not having an SD I/O or other memory card slot. First, it comes with 4GB or 8GB of storage, which is huge, even now, for a smartphone. Secondly, I have a phone with a SD slot. I’ve had the same 1GB card in there forever, mostly because it’s in use a lot, and getting the stuff off of it onto another card would be a rather huge pain in the keister. But the truth is, it’s been all the storage I need. Sure, if I listened to a lot of music, I’d need more, but then I’d also need a bigger battery. That’s a heck of a tax for what my iPod already gives me.
Another issue the SD fans gloss over is that the Palm OS is simply horrible about SD usage, and Windows Mobile, at least up through 5 isn’t much better. The Palm OS rarely gives you much options about where to install applications or even store data, and with Windows Mobile, you have to manually tell each application to store data on the SD card, and when you install a new application, that’s a manual selection too. Better than the Palm, but Windows Mobile needs a “Always default to the largest free memory storage” option. (It may do that in WM 6, I don’t have a WM 6 phone, so I can’t say.)
Finally, the keyboard issue. If you believe Ballmer, the world requires a hard keyboard and buttons. Well, having dealt with the “sized for a baby’s pinky” on-screen controls on my 6700 and my (slightly better) 6601, I can see why he says that. Seriously, the only thing the 6601 does right are the phone buttons. Nice and big. Manually dialing the 6700 without a stylus? Either takes 4 tries, or I use the manual keyboard which, thanks to the lack of a number pad, makes dialing suck there too. The 6601 has the worse keyboard, but because the on-screen options are good, I use it less. On the 6700? Stylus or slide-out keyboard. Dealing with things like call-waiting et al. on either are torturous. Maybe if Microsoft designed the Windows Mobile UI for adult-sized fingers, it wouldn’t need so many fixed buttons.
But again, the iPhone is still, for all real-world purposes, vaporware, and the people predicting massive success or utter failure for it are simply trying to stoke the well-known knee-jerk tendencies of the Mac user population into jacking their hit counts. I know that “wait and see, then decide” isn’t popular, but can we try to keep the doom and angels noise down at least a little?