04
Jun
07

Why iPhone?

It’s been a little while since I’ve written anything even remotely tech related. Lately a lot of the questions I’ve been asked have been related to the soon-to-be-released (hopefully) iPhone from Apple. When it was first announced there seemed to be this incredible buzz. People who weren’t even into tech all that much knew about it. After a few weeks, reality set in and the mood went from, “I’ll give my firstborn child for one” to, “well, how great can it be?” Many of the inquiries seem to be coming from people who know the phone is going to be great, but want to understand more specifically how it will equal a better experience. (A la Windows Vista.)

Now that we’ve been given the actual release date – June 29 – it’s time to start deciding. Quantities are going to be limited. And with that, I’ve put together a truly random list of the reasons why I’m considering ditching Verizon Wireless after seven years of ups and downs and going with the iPhone and AT&T Wireless.

1. Signature “Apple” Industrial Design – I’ve owned several products from Apple and the one thing that is consistent across every product that you buy (among other things) is the fact that the industrial design will be great. I just bought an Acer laptop (which I took back after about 8 hours, but that’s another story). It was the complete opposite of my experience with my MacBook, MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, G4 PowerBook and iPod. Each of those products wreaked of quality from the moment you open the box. Nothing feels cheap or plastic-ey. Feels good to the hand. Ergonomically friendly. Just everything about the experience of holding the devices makes you feel less self-conscious about spending a little bit more for the box with the white Apple logo on the box.

And this leads up to our expectations with the iPhone. Jonathan Ive (or Sir Jonathan Ive to you) has been the mastermind behind the incredible industrial design of the PowerBook, the iPod and so many other designs at Apple and he’s got his hands in this one too. Every feature that has been promised on the iPod works exactly the way that you expect it to. And while the iPhone may prove to be a bigger challenge than any of those previous attempts (I mean, after all, he’s effectively cramming OS X into a phone with only a touch interface) somehow I think he’ll deliver her just as he’s done in the past.

2. Movie Playback – Steve Jobs himself admits that when the question of movies on the iPod first arose, he shot them down. “The iPod is about music”, he kept reminding us. But consumer demand pushed Apple to reconsider and they’ve helped to revolutionize the way that people buy episodic television shows. Yet and still, the 5th Gen iPod is still an awfully small screen when it comes to watching anything. It’s small even when the screen is maximized. Let’s not even talk about the size when watching a movie in 16×9 widescreen format.

Those who’ve seen movies of the iPhone can’t seem to get the image of a wide screen movie running the length of the pretty generous screen. Well, at least I can’t. Right now I have a weird workflow where I’m converting movies on my Mac using VisualHub and then copying them to a Memory Stick for playback on my Sony PSP. It works. Sorta. The PSP is kinda heavy, so I find myself switching hands a lot when I’m watching it. The screen is certainly a lot bigger than the iPhone screen will be, but I’d almost sacrifice the size for a more ergonomic fit in my hand. Not sure what this kinda movie watching behavior is going to do to my battery life daily and over the life of the device, but I certainly am looking forward to movie playback.

3. Better Camera – The camera on my Motorola Q is horrible. Period. 2.0 Megapixel? Yeah, right. And yes, I know that mobile phones typically have poor cameras. But the alleged shots that I saw taken with the iPhone, if they are in fact, real — (check em out here) look pretty sweet. Just a step up in resolution from what I currently have is all I need. There have been a number of times when I just saw something weird or notable and rather than dragging around a Canon SD 1000 or even a very small 2.0 Megapixel point and shoot, I’d like to just whip out the phone, snap a shot and feel like I’m not losing anything.

4. Full Web Browsing Experience – This is probably the biggest thing for me. I spend more time on my Motorola Q browsing the Internet, checking Gmail, reading news, checking sports stories and scores, downloading podcasts, and a bunch of other Internet-based tasks than I do talking on the phone! And by a significant margin — I’d say 10-to-1 (Internet use to phone/talking use). But the web experience in Windows Mobile 5 is lackluster at best. I mean, the information is there. I’m able to see the stories. But it’s just sad. Pages don’t render properly. Flash animations aren’t working. Images are missing. Links are missing. And this is after trying several different solutions including Internet Explorer Mobile, Opera, and the new Microsoft project titled “Deepfish”. Deepfish comes the closest to giving an experience that mirrors what I’m used to seeing on my laptop. But oh, what I wouldn’t give for a small version of Safari or Firefox to just browse — even with the tiny text.

Who knows. The actual iPhone web experience may not be that much better than what I have now. Chances are that flash-based sites may not work on the iPhone either. And perhaps the iPhone won’t help me with that ultimate solution of pre-downloading a bunch of web pages a link or two deep so that I can browse while underground on the train. But anything is probably better than what I’ve got now.

5. No Mistake Dialing – There’s nothing quite as embarrassing as looking at your phone and realizing that you’ve dialed someone about 10 times because your pants were pressed against the quick dial button. And I know how to lock the phone to make sure that this doesn’t happen. But it still does. And it drives me mad. I spend so much time just looking at my phone to make sure it says that it’s locked. Well, looking at that demo made me comfortable because they’ve got the patents to make sure that the phone only accepts deliberate keystrokes. To quote, Steve said in the MacWorld 2007 Keynote that it will “ignore unintended keyboard touches”. Perhaps it will be the same as what I’ve got now, but the promise of a better experience is what I’m hoping for.

6. OS X – During the recent interview with Walt Mossberg, Steve Jobs confirmed that the iPhone is actually running the full OS X operating system. It’s pretty hard to believe, but I’m sure Steve knows that we’re gonna hack the crap out of the phone and call him on his claim if it isn’t, so he must be telling the truth. And if he is, well boy, that speaks volumes for the future. Unlike the majority of folks I’ve talked to who are down on the phone, I personally don’t care about the open architecture that a Windows Mobile OS brings. I don’t run all that many 3rd Party apps on my Windows Mobile 5 phone even now. I’ll be content as long as I can: browse the web, send e-mail, write simple documents, keep a to-do list, manage my contacts, manage my calendar and record voice notes. Anything else is gravy. And with Apple’s relationship with Google coupled with a few of the small applets that they’ve already written for OS X, I’ve got to think that they’ll be continuing to help Apple by creating innovative widgets/applets for the iPhone.

Just the promise of an OS X like experience makes me excited. I’m a big OS X fan.

7. Just a Bit of iPod on the Go – I’m not that psyched about having “the best iPod ever made”. For me and my short-attention span, having an iPod with a ton of music that I can shuffle through until something that matches my mood hits is what I want. I don’t foresee myself having my music library on the phone or using this as an iPod. Certainly I’ll still be keeping my iPod with me. But for those times when I can’t charge it up or forget it in the apartment and don’t have time to go back for it, having this will suffice. Just a little bit of iPod will do me fine. But then again, who knows. Maybe given the promise of holding only one device will make me revisit this idea.

8. AT&T Relationship for 5 Years – I’ve heard Scott Bourne of Podango, Mac Break Weekly and the Apple Phone Show podcast say that the one variable in this whole plan is Cingular/AT&T Wireless. Personally, technical limitations of Edge aside, I don’t foresee them being much of a problem. The contract that Apple signed with AT&T seems to be one that gives them the kind of freedom that they’re used to. After all, from what I understand, Apple is handling the customer service for the device as well as controlling where the phone will be sold (currently only at the Apple Store and Cingular branches.)

What makes this a reason for considering a switch is that this is an exclusive contract. Clearly if you have any intention of owning this phone, AT&T Wireless is going to be the only way that you’ll get to enjoy it here in the U.S. And with that long term relationship comes five years of keynotes…. five years of innovation…. We’ve watched how significant the iPod has evolved since it’s release in 2001. Same with OS X. Same with the PowerBook and the iMac. Five years is a long time and I don’t see how any other device could capture my attention the way that this one has.

9. The Accelerometer – Reading this next point, you might suspect that I’m a corporate shill that is being paid by Apple to write this. I distinctly recall the Accelerometer from MacWorld because it was a feature that got a lot of oohs and ahhs. Simply put, it’s what causes the screen to automatically rotate when the device is rotated. Turn it landscape and your content is landscape. Turn that photo to portrait mode and you’re back to the long view. Pretty remarkable and sure to get attention as soon as potential buyers try it out.

10. Coverflow That is Actually Functional – As pretty as Coverflow is within iTunes, I’ve never used it. It requires having all of the album art and that’s a project that I haven’t quite finished yet. But on the iPhone? Hmm. This may actually work. It’s functional. I can foresee myself flipping through album covers until something connects with me visually. And then again, maybe it will be useless. But it certainly makes a lot more sense on the phone than it does on the desktop.

11. Visual Voicemail – It’s amazing what you can patent these days. Who would have thought that through a technical loophole you could license something as basic in concept as “push e-mail”? But Blackberry sure has done it. Well, Apple has patented this “Visual Voicemail” and as amazing as it is that someone hasn’t thought of this before, it’s equally as amazing to me that they’re being allowed to patent it. What is “Visual Voicemail”, you ask? Simply put, Visual Voicemail is going to allow you to have an e-mail-like view of your voicemail messages. Instead of having to listen through all nine new voicemails, you’ll simply tap the one that corresponds to the number or name of the contact who called you. This is huge, if it works as advertised. No more having to “#” through until you get to the voicemail that actually has the directions that you need or the name of the person that you’re supposed to meet at the client’s site. You simply select it on the screen.

12. Portable Photo Library – Remember the days of old when someone would ask, “how are the kids”, and dad would pull out his wallet and the photo holder would flip out and snake down all the way to the ground? Well, how about just keeping images on the phone. No, not just for the wallpaper. How about showing the images from the latest party? Or the images you took of that celebrity when they showed up unexpectedly at the restaurant. I guess this is an old thing to say and SideKick users are probably laughing at the prospect of people who aren’t doing this in this day and age. And for me, yet — this is something I do now. But it’s clunky as all hell on a Windows Mobile device. You have to navigate to the app or look for the jpg in the file manager and it’s just sad. This would be a simple and elegant way of performing the task.

13. Easy Dialing / Swapping Between and Merging Calls – This is something that I didn’t quite latch onto in the first viewing of the MacWorld Keynote, but boy did I smile when I saw it the second time around. Setting up a conference call on a mobile phone is a feat that certainly seems like it would be easy on my Moto Q, but trust me — it isn’t. Heck, I can’t even swap between calls with absolute certainty. The only assurance I have that I’m still on the line with the intended party is the fact that their name and number are visually on the display. Apple has taken it a step further. Actual visual buttons for swapping between calls and conferencing in users. Steve Jobs, Jonathan Ive and Phil Schiller demonstrated this. Steve was listening to music, got a call from someone and the music slowly faded out. Then Phil Schiller called. Steve seamlessly swapped between the two calls until he decided to conference both parties in. (The phone totally showed the fact that there was a “Conference in Progress” and who the parties involved were.) The most impressive part was watching Steve select who he wanted to drop and then pushing the onscreen button to drop one person, then eventually the second.

I think this phone would allow even my mom to create a conference call. (Which might not be a good thing.)

Summary

Well, the day is soon approaching. June 29 will be here before we know it. And while we all decide how we’re going to escape from our current phone contracts, I think it’s pretty much a no-brainer that this phone will be the most impressive and most functional device we’ve seen in quite some time. Financially it’s a bit of a stretch, but it certainly seems as if the experience will be satisfying.

….but the story isn’t all roses. There are at least a few reasons why this might not be the ideal time to pick up the phone. And I’ll cover those in the post to follow.

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