You have to admire the way Apple stage manages announcements and releases – despite months of rumours, there’s been little of real substance about the iPhone until it was announced in San Francisco on Tuesday. The media coverage the announcement has already got is hard to believe – let alone all the discussion that’s going on over the net about it.

Now, I have never bought an Apple product*. Partly through bloody-mindedness and some kind of desire to be a bit different, and partly because over a decade ago I never got on with the Mac and, more crucially, never (then) got on with the kind of Mac users who behaved like religious zealots…

The iPhone looks interesting for a number of reasons: time will tell if it is really a success in Europe when compared to all the various Smartphones, PDAs, Blackberry devices etc, as well as the more basic mobile phone devices as used primarily by consumers who just want a phone, maybe one that takes pictures, that can make and take calls, and do text messaging.

Some initial thoughts about the iPhone, IMHO:

  • From a feature point of view, it’s not really all that revolutionary – there’s nothing really on the device that isn’t already available from a number of different (more established) mobile operators and device vendors, and many offer (today) all the same (and more) level of functionality, for a lower cost.
    Where Apple will hope to score will be on the whole package and the design.
  • When iPods are announced (as well as other devices like the Mac mini), it’s often been possible to go right out and buy them that day. This contrasts with most tech company behaviours where products are announced months or even years in advance. The iPhone breaks with this tradition somewhat, by not being available months later in the US, much later this year (in Europe) and next year in Asia.
  • Network operators always have to go through a testing cycle for any new hardware – maybe that’s why Steve Jobs was waving about the iPhone on stage, but it’ll be 4 or 5 months before anyone will buy one. Talk to any of the entrant mobile device vendors in recent years, and you’ll find a lot of them who just haven’t nailed enough of the basics for the device to be usable… so the iPhone v1 might well need to be followed up pretty quickly with a later version, if there isn’t enough time to sort out the inevitable troubles early on. The lack of 3G might have put a lot of carriers off this phone, if it didn’t carry the Apple logo and the cachet that goes with that, so maybe a quick follow-on with iPhone v2 that includes UMTS would be a smart move for Apple, though at the risk of cheesing off all the early adopters of v1.
  • Cingular seem to have done well out of this arrangement – an exclusive deal (at least at first) where every salivating wannabe iPhone owner gets tied to a 2 year contract just to buy the phone in the first place. The other US carriers must be smarting a bit over that one – but to do this, Cingular may have had to give up any control on the device (custom UI, built-in activation of specific carrier services, application bundles etc) that they would typically impose on other handset vendors… although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing…
  • There’s no denying the iPhone looks nice – at least it does in the photos and videos. It’s a master of style and simplicity, just like the way the Mac has always stuck to a single mouse button rather than the 2 or 3 that Windows or various *nixes have adopted. It’ll be interesting to see how effective the touch screen is, not only for dialling (something that’s never as easy on a touch screen as it is on a physical keypad – the lack of tactile feedback really makes a difference), but also for texting using an on-screen soft keyboard without a stylus.
  • Who’s the typical user going to be? Twenty/thirtysomething consumers who quite probably own an iPod already? How’s Apple going to grow their installed base with the phone, if the main user groups just ditch their iPod Nano in favour of an iPhone…
  • Business customers are much more likely to either be using Windows Mobile, Blackberry or similar, or would at least want to connect their array of devices to some internal e-mail system with calendaring & contacts sync support, rather than relying on IMAP or getting an external service (like the push-IMAP that’s being offered from Yahoo!). Enterprise customers may also want some more control over the security of the device – is there going to be on-device encryption? What about policies to manage access in to internal systems from the GPRS network? And with a whole new OS (even if it is some variant of OS X, it’s still going to be “new” from a developer perspective), how quickly & readily will 3rd parties be to fill the inevitable gaps in functionality?


Oh well, I suppose we’ll have to wait & see what happens…


* I do actually own some Apple merchandise – the iPod sock that I use to keep my Orange SPV M3100 warm and scratch-free (thankfully now washed and smelling sweetly). And I once had a Mac classic – when I left a previous employer, one part of my leaving present was an old monochrome Mac (which I don’t think ever booted up). I took it home and turned it into a garden ornament – it looked quite funky sitting in the back border, covered in moss and with the plastic cracking somewhat. Wish I had some photos…

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