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.