Still Not Ready to Adopt the iPhone

I want to like the iPhone. I real­ly do, and I am con­fi­dent that I’ll have one in a year or two. It’s very slick and pret­ty and there’s a lot of stuff that it does real­ly well. I believe most of the iPhone naysay­ers are full of it. I have my com­plaints about the iPhone (which I’ll enu­mer­ate present­ly) but most of the com­plaints I’ve heard about the iPhone are just plain crap. I’ve come to sus­pect these vocal detrac­tors just like to complain. 

Maybe I should start with those com­plaints I con­sid­er bunkum. I real­ly feel the need to dis­tance myself from the wack­adoo iPhone haters, espe­cial­ly because I’m about to launch my own set of criticisms.

  • The iPhone does­n’t have 3G net­work­ing.
    True enough, and I always agree that faster is bet­ter. The iPhone should have HSDPA net­work­ing. But the num­ber of phones that do have the 3G net­work­ing is still rel­a­tive­ly slim, and despite the WIH claims, EDGE GPRS net­work­ing isn’t that bad. It comes up short com­pared to the DSL or Cable ser­vice most peo­ple have at home today, but it’s still an order of mag­ni­tude faster than dial-up or the fastest cel­lu­lar data con­nec­tions from just three or four years ago. Web brows­ing on EDGE is a lit­tle slug­gish, but email access is pret­ty darn snap­py, even with attach­ments. I don’t know about any­one else, but I don’t do a lot of Web surf­ing on my cell­phone and I don’t think I would if it were faster. I have a few use­ful book­marks on my phone’s brows­er: movie list­ings, online dic­tio­nary, wikipedia, stuff like that. EDGE is per­fect­ly ade­quate, even if not the best.
  • The iPhone is exclu­sive to the worst cell provider ever.
    I can’t agree. I’ve been on AT&T since before AT&T Wire­less was bought by Cin­gu­lar and have had few com­plaints about cov­er­age or ser­vice. Grant­ed, I live in a dense­ly-pop­u­lat­ed urban area with a high lev­el of tech-geek­ery in the cul­ture, exact­ly the sort of place where there’s demand to jus­ti­fy infra­struc­ture expen­di­tures, even to an inhu­man, face­less cor­po­ra­tion. How­ev­er, that nev­er stopped Sprint from suck­ing when I had one of their phones. (And Sprint­’s trolls chased me down threat­en­ing to sue me until I paid them $300 for «breach of con­tract» for ter­mi­nat­ing my ser­vice 363 days after I switched rate plans. My orig­i­nal con­tract had been done with for years when I switched plans, and I did­n’t get a new phone, I just changed the num­ber of min­utes that were includ­ed on my plan, and that meant I had a new one-year con­tract; some­thing the Sprint rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the phone failed to tell me when I switched plans and when I called to ter­mi­nate my ser­vice. Believe me, I was tempt­ed to spend thou­sands of dol­lars on lawyers to get out of that $300 on prin­ci­ple, but I caved. The point is that in my book, Sprint is the worst cell com­pa­ny ever.)
    This relates to the pre­vi­ous com­plaint, though. In the Unit­ed States, there are two GSM-based cell providers: AT&T and T‑Mobile. The rest all use CDMA. GSM is the tech­nol­o­gy that is used for cell­phones every­where in the world, CDMA is an out­dat­ed stan­dard that has only ever been used in the Unit­ed States. The iPhone is only avail­able as a GSM phone, a deci­sion I sup­port. While GSM cov­er­age is not as wide­spread in the US as CDMA is, that’s because CDMA is old­er and fun­da­men­tal­ly less capa­ble tech­nol­o­gy. If I ever want to leave the coun­try with my phone, a CDMA phone will be use­less. Any for­ward-think­ing com­pa­ny that does not already have an invest­ment in CDMA should treat CDMA like rot­ten meat. I ful­ly agree that tying a prod­uct to a sin­gle provider is bad and wrong, but I’m guess­ing that T‑Mobile, in bed as they are with Danger/Sidekick, did­n’t want to offer the iPhone back before it was released. I can’t say I blame Apple for tying them­selves exclu­sive­ly to the only non-rot­ten-meat option that they had. If they get some favor­able terms out of it, good for them.
  • Touch­screens are inher­ent­ly bad
    Nah. Sure, you’ll get fin­ger­prints on your pret­ty device, but a touch­screen is great for devices that need a fast, intu­itive inter­face. The dif­fer­ence in usabil­i­ty between my Treo 680 (touch­screen) and my Nokia e61i (no touch­screen) is dra­mat­ic. Even with the Noki­a’s well-thought-out inter­face it’s still clum­sy at best because there’s no way to just tap the option you want.
  • That stu­pid vir­tu­al key­board will nev­er work
    I feel you. I’m pret­ty skep­ti­cal about it too, but there are a lot of these devices in the field now. Ask the peo­ple that use them how the onscreen key­board works for them. Most that I’ve talked to have rat­ed it between «only slight­ly awk­ward» and «real­ly cool».
  • It has a sub­stan­dard cam­era
    No, it does­n’t. The cam­era is not top-of-the-line by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion, but who cares? All cell­phone cam­eras suck. I admit that they are con­ve­nient and I have fre­quent­ly been very glad I’ve had them, but even top-of-the-line cell­phone cam­eras make real­ly crap­py dig­i­tal images. Apple could have used a more expen­sive cam­era, increased the retail price three hun­dred dol­lars, and it would still make crap­py pictures.

I’m sure there’s more, but I’d like to move on from oth­er peo­ple’s whin­ing and get on to my own.

The short­com­ings of the iPhone in my eyes are two-fold. First, it’s not a very good phone. They need to improve the anten­na and the qual­i­ty of the speak­er and micro­phone. Per­haps I’m more sen­si­tive to it because I have some high-fre­quen­cy hear­ing loss from too many years of loud punk rock, but I’ve had cell­phones that were very near­ly as good as a cord­less land­line phone. The first thing a phone should be good at is clear­ly receiv­ing and trans­mit­ting audio.

The sec­ond set of short­com­ings relates to its use as a PDA or lap­top replace­ment. Cur­rent­ly, the iPhone is still closed to third-par­ty appli­ca­tion devel­op­ers. The SDK has been promised and I have no rea­son not to believe that the promise will be ful­filled, but until third-par­ty devel­op­ers get in the game the iPhone will fall far short of the PalmPi­lot I bought in 1999, nev­er mind the New­ton Mes­sagePad 130 I bought in 1996. There are a num­ber of appli­ca­tions that I use on a hand­held device, and I hate car­ry­ing two devices to get the ben­e­fit of a phone and PDA. They real­ly should be integrated.

The appli­ca­tions I’m wait­ing for:

  • A word proces­sor. I think DataViz’s Doc­u­ments to Go would be killer on the iPhone’s screen.
  • Pock­et Quick­en. I should be able to record my expens­es as I go and sync to my desk­top Quicken.
  • An encrypt­ed pass­word safe.
  • An eBook read­er. And by that I don’t mean a Web brows­er, I mean a read­er that will dis­play books that are pur­chased. I love that all the clas­sics are avail­able in plain­text for­mat to read for free in a brows­er, but that real­ly does­n’t cut it if I want to read a book pub­lished in the last sev­en­ty years. That iPhone screen would make a great eBook reader.
  • Time track­er. I use my Palm to keep track of my hours worked for clients as well as fine arts projects. I use Iambic All­Time, which I’m afraid is a mere shad­ow of it’s great-grand­pap­py TimeRe­porter for New­ton, but it works. There are a lot of com­pa­nies out there that make time track­er soft­ware, and a few open-source pack­ages. This should­n’t be a big problem. 
  • Health/workout track­ing. Yeah, I keep a work­out log in the Palm. Again, lots of this soft­ware out there, but until some of it comes to the iPhone, get­ting an iPhone will be a step back­ward for me.

Some of these needs could be han­dled with Apple’s exist­ing SDK by mak­ing web-based applets out of them. I don’t con­sid­er that to be opti­mal, because there will always be times when I’m out of range. Even if cell­phone data net­work cov­er­age becomes tru­ly uni­ver­sal, what hap­pens when I’m on an airplane?

Nev­er­the­less I’d be will­ing to com­pro­mise on some of those apps. But only some. Not my pass­word vault, that’s for sure. And not Pock­et Quick­en. I don’t think an eBook read­er or a word proces­sor would work well as a web-based app either, but I’m will­ing to be proven wrong on that count.

Relat­ed to appli­ca­tion sup­port is the iPhone’s Blue­tooth sup­port. Along with that word proces­sor, I want to be able to con­nect a wire­less key­board. And even if I don’t get the word proces­sor I want, I still will want to blog from any­where. This entry took me an hour and a half to write and type. I’m pret­ty sure I can’t ham­mer out a thou­sand words an hour with the onscreen key­board (or Graf­fi­ti or the Treo key­board for that mat­ter). Not that sev­en­teen words a minute isn’t doable; I’m sure it is. But I’m talk­ing writ­ing, not just typing.

I’m con­fi­dent that the iPhone will get there. Basi­cal­ly I’m now bid­ing my time until the iPhone meets my needs, because I don’t see oth­ers rush­ing to fill the void. Maybe Palm could come out of its dol­drums and get its new ver­sion of Pal­mOS fin­ished and sta­ble, but I’m not hold­ing my breath. Palm is say­ing first quar­ter 2009, and a year away is a long time for an OS upgrade we’ve already been wait­ing six years for. Microsoft can’t seem to design a hand­held user inter­face to save its life, so where does that leave us?

Your move, Apple. You have the pow­er to blow every­thing else out of the mar­ket. You just have to let the devel­op­ers do their thing, and accept that some peo­ple won’t need Mac­Books if their iPhone does more. 

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