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Apple Wiffs With iPhone, 'er aPhone

Since the announcement of Apple's non-shipping iPhone, the press has fawned over the device incessantly with dreamy write-ups in everything from online tech sites to daily newspapers and magazines. The same outlets that criticized Sony for their expensive but technically advanced Playstation3, showered Apple with praise for a not-too-dissimilar product. It's clear that the press bandwagon, which had been parked at Google's headquarters, has now moved to Apple's front door. And like usual, it's so packed there's not much oxygen to power brains for clear thinking.

I started my business career as a Macintosh consultant so I've tracked Apple/Jobs closely for two decades. The 80's saw the release of the Next computer with its optical storage, advanced display and object orientated programming language. The 90's brought the Newton, a PDA with a touch screen and handwriting recognition. These devices were technically superior, a vision of the future and a complete bust. It's undeniable that the iPhone has a clever design with its rotating screen and hand gesture interface, but they won't be enough to save this device from a similar fate of its Newton step-father. The iPhone will ultimately stumble because it's crippled, closed and costly.

The concept with the iPhone is to combine a media player and phone which is a good idea, but Cingular and Apple crippled the functionality to fit their current businesses. In spite of having a data connection via the cellular network and WiFi, the iPhone cannot use either method to load music or movies onto the device. To change tunes or videos requires a PC a USB cable and iTunes software. (Yes, you read this right. Surprised you didn't see this in any of the press accounts?) This misses the entire benefit of a wireless device. You might as well tape an iPod to your existing phone because that's all the iPhone is.

Similarly, there's no way to use the WiFi to make phone calls, which Cingular insisted be blocked to protect their voice business. (Most telcos fear VOIP calls and believe they can slow or stop its adoption.) While iPhone promos tout WiFi, I'd contend they don't support WiFi, but "wiff" a partial implementation popular by companies trying to lock consumers in. Wiff companies either limit what hotspots you can connect to as Earthlink's does in their ridiculous VOIP phone, or they limit what you can use the WiFi for, as Apple does. The iPhone's wiff can be used for web and email access, but without a real keyboard it's impractical for any meaningful e-mail use. A touch screen keyboard lacks the tactile feedback necessary to locate and depress keys. Close your eyes. Put your hands down on a flat surface and imagine a keyboard. Now type. You'll find it's impossible or painfully slow. Stock in wireless e-mail device companies RIM (blackberry maker) and Palm (Treo) went down with Apple's announcement, but they have nothing to worry about.

With their iTunes franchise Apple has perfected the art of consumer lock-in with their proprietary itunes DRM. (Consumer can't play purchased music on anything but Apple equipment.) It's that mindset that has driven the design of iPhone. Apple's intent is to own and control your phone experience. Consumers can't decide what software they want on their own equipment. (Read: You Own Nothing.) It doesn't have to be this way in spite of what Cingular or Apple says.

There are mobile phone companies that are committed to open architectures which put the consumer in charge and implement unrestricted WiFi in their devices. The leader is Nokia, the largest handset manufacturer in the world. Nokia is not a darling with the MacBook carrying press, but they should be because their open approach to the mobile market makes them consumer and net friendly. Check out how the iPhone compares to Nokia's N80ie device.


Apple iPhone

Nokia N80ie

Price

$749

$499

Availability

2nd half 2007

Now - globally

Carriers Supported

Cingular Only

All GSM

Dual mode (GSM/WiFi)

Yes/wiff

Yes/Yes

Downloading Music

-

Yes

Streaming Audio

-

Requires additional software*

VOIP

-

Yes

Expandable

-

Yes

Used without mobile carrier

-

Yes


* Nokia is working with MP3tunes to enable out of the box streaming audio of MP3 on their devices without additional software required.

[Disclosure: My company SIPphone is the carrier on Nokia's WiFi phones meaning that calls going over WiFi, instead of the mobile carrier, use our systems which lets consumers avoid exorbitant roaming fees and airtime charges. This also provides local numbers in more than 30 countries for inbound calls.]


VOIP made simple with SIPphone and Nokia. Select number, select Internet call, and talk!
There are other issues with the iPhone such as cost and battery life. Apple cleverly published the price of the iPhone with a 2-year commitment which makes the phone appear cheaper than it really is. Publications like BusinessWeek then published the price with no mention of the multi-year obligation. While it's a clever pricing ploy, the iPhone is pushing the boundaries of price putting it out of reach of all but the top echelon of shoppers. I think battery life will also be an enormous concern. There's nothing worse then being on a business or personal trip and having your phone run out of energy. Handset companies like Nokia have decades of experience with power management that will take Apple some time to match. The oversized touch screen of the iPhone will likely be a battery hog requiring midday recharges for active users.

Finally, Apple's claim to the iPhone trademark is clearly a ploy to garner free press coverage between now and the iPhone's release. Unless their attorney's have lost their mind they must know they will lose any lawsuit. I expect a rebranding to 'aphone' or 'Applephone' or a massive check to Cisco (think $50-75 million range) for the rights to the iPhone name. Don't spend the money Apple - the name won't be enough to save the pfkai (phone formerly known as iPhone).

-- MR

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