Apple’s iPhone: Is it all that?
by Cian Ginty
iPhone shipments had barely begun to arrive in the US when Irish technology commentators were rounding on the faults of Apple’s first attempt at a mobile phone.
On his internationally-watched blog at tomrafteryit.net, Tom Raftery said of Apple’s iPhone: “The launch sounds like it has all the makings of a disaster in the works.”
One of the main problems outlined by Raftery is that the “iPhone is dead when you get it”. US users who buy the phone on Friday will have to link it up to a Mac or PC and activate it online, as well as choose a service plan and authorise their credit.
In a statement on Tuesday Apple CEO Steve Jobs said this ‘feature’ will allow users to “activate their new iPhone in the comfort and privacy of their own home or office, without having to wait in a store while their phone is activated”.
There is also no access to iTunes directly from the phone; it must be hooked up to a computer for music downloads.
The iPhone’s battery, which cannot be removed from the handset, is another feature that Raftery and many others have highlighted as a problem area that is likely to mirror the iPod, where users had to return the music player to Apple after battery failure.
The cost of the device doesn’t end with the price tag of USD499 for the 4GB version, or USD599 for the 8GB phone; Apple has signed an exclusive deal in the US with operator AT&T who will lock customers into a two-year contract when they buy the iPhone. In addition, there’s a once off USD36 “activation fee”.
Despite these issues though, many commentators, including Adrian Weckler in his weekly column in the Sunday Business Post, believe the much-hyped phone will prove popular in the US though will be “largely ignored” in Europe.
One key point that Weckler focuses on is Apple’s use of GPRS rather then the much faster 3G, meaning internet browsing will be at a snail’s pace outside WiFi hotspots: “So browsing the internet on it, which is what it is trumpeting as a key feature, will take ages. Activities such as watching YouTube will prove juddery and stop-start”.
In a review published on the New York Times website tech journalist David Pogue, backs up Weckler’s assertion, saying that outside WiFi “you have to use AT&T’s ancient EDGE cellular network, which is excruciatingly slow. The New York Times’s homepage takes 55 seconds to appear; Amazon.com, 100 seconds; Yahoo, two minutes. You almost ache for a dial-up modem”.
Reviews are currently streaming in from US tech journalists who were given the phone for a two-week trial, with reviews now up on nytimes.com, wsj.com, msnbc.com, and usatoday.com.
Even with no picture messaging, no memory card slot, no chat program, no voice dialling, a poor on-board camera, slow net access outside WiFi, and reportedly just reasonable voice quality (whether that’s the network at fault or not is another thing), the reviews are positive overall.
The US reviews are highlighting key features such as the internet browser and e-mail interfaces, as well as YouTube and Google Maps on the move, which are all apparently easy to use with the touchscreen. Also cited are the high screen resolution, and comparably good battery life.
“The screen can nicely display an entire web page, and by dragging, tapping, pinching and stretching your fingers you can zero in on the part of the page you want to read,” says Newsweek’s Steven Levy at msnbc.com. He says that the iPhone is far more usable then other phones, but Flash, Windows Media, and Real Media don’t work.
Some of the reviewers, who were former critics of the idea of a touchscreen keyboard, are now saying they adapted to it after a few days of use. “I was among many many people who thought this a real deal-breaker feature,” said Wall Street Journal journalist Walter Mossberg in a video posted at wsj.com. “I have to say that at three days testing the thing I wanted to throw it out of the window because the keyboard was so difficult to use and because I was making so many errors on it, but five days in I suddenly found that I could type as well and as fast”.
All of the phone’s apparent downfalls though are unlikely to deter the avid Apple enthusiasts in the US, who even now are queuing up outside shops where the device will go on sale on Friday 29 June.
Meanwhile, rumours are circulating as to which European mobile network will pick up an iPhone exclusive, with latest reports suggesting Vodafone is a frontrunner. For the most part though, European operators are keeping tight-lipped and there is still no release date in sight this side of the Atlantic.