Arm Candy Apple iPhone Underwhelms

“The Holy Grail of Gadgets”
“Shake-Up for the Phone Industry”
“Will Disrupt the Mobile Phone Market”

These are only a few of today’s headlines heralding the advent of the long-awaited Apple iPhone. In fact the scene at MacWorld, following as it did on Christmas, looked for all the world like the geek Magi adoring the holy child of Cupertino.

With a buildup like this it would be hard not to come up short, even if you’re golden boy Steve Jobs.

So what have we got here?

After all the ooh-ing and ah-ing about the slick, no-tiny-keys-or stylus-in-sight design, it’s…a phone. While the touch screen user interface is heads and shoulders above those of PDAs like Palm and Blackberry, even that is not the dramatic advance it’s made out to be. I use the touch screen on my Treo all the time — without the stylus. It’s an evolution not a revolution.

In terms of functionality, I can’t see that the $500-$600 Apple iPhone does anything that smartphones don’t do already at significantly lower cost and with a choice of service providers, unlike Apple which only offers Cingular service. Looking sexy is not a feature that most business users will pay a premium and sacrifice choice for.

I’m not the only one who’s underwhelmed by Apple’s iPhone. VoIP industry pundit Jeff Pulver’s pulse rate actually lowered.

“It sounds like a device that should work better than other such devices have in the past,” he says. “It’s not about songs or ringtones. What I was looking for was a next generation PDA that happened to be a phone.”

“It’s not the revolutionary change agent we expected from Apple,” he continues. “I had hoped when Apple came out with an iPhone that the little ’i’ meant something.”

Still, Pulver concedes the device has a pretty face. “Would I like to leave CES with a phone like that? Sure.” Just what you say about arm candy.

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  • jbond

    Two questions:-
    – Is it any good for TXTing?
    – And how easy/hard is it to port applications across to it? “Running OSX” don’t mean nothing if we have to ask Apple or Cingular for permission to run the app.

  • arto9

    You would think that after the success of the iPod (which had less features and a higher price) people would understand why it is that Apple’s approach to technology resonates with consumers. Your article focuses on the What (features) and in a myopic sense, you’re correct. But consider not it parts, but its relationships with the parts: the How.

    The iPhone doesn’t offer anything new (the what) but it does offer those features in a way that’s not just eye candy: its about really good design, design that makes those features accessible through intuitive, simple, and elegant ways. Like OS X and the iPod, the content comes forward, not the device. Of course, techies like it the other way around and therefore are blinded by the highly specialized and privileged skill sets that inform their perspective.

    Get off you’re anesthetic and see how technology is not only more pleasurable with aesthetics, it’s more effective & efficient because it takes into account the human senses. But maybe I’m talking to a brain in a vat.

  • lonnie

    Hmm, arto9, your advanced reasoning capacity isn’t equipped with a “tact” feature? Explain please how your concept of good design differs that much from a short-hand description like “eye candy.”

    We can’t know exactly how intuitive, simple or elegant the iPhone is going to prove to be because nobody’s used one yet. And while iPod definitely revolutionized the personal music player, it took Apple more than one try to get it right. So I think we have good cause to be somewhat skeptical of the iPhone out of the gate.

  • gropo

    “Only works with Cingular”!? NOT. That’s funny. it’s called GSM, which means you can use the darn phone with ANY GSM carrier. period. Now go back and study some more…

  • arto9

    Lonnie, I concede your ‘tact’ point, I was a little too enthusiastic in making my point.

    To answer your question, I believe good design as exhibited by iPhone has to do w/the UI: (1) The “Multi-Touch” input technology combined w/core animation provide for a sensual way to interact w/the device. There is only one permanent button on the front, allowing software solutions which are superior to real buttons in that they can change according to the context. (2) And more importantly, the design, or organization of the interface insures that all significant features (complexity) are efficiently accesses by very few & self-evident steps (simplicity). Watching the SF (apple.com) video of the device in use demonstrates this, people got visibly & vocally excited b/c it makes use of vision & touch, two very sophisticated (& overlooked) aspects of human intelligence. The beauty of the device is NOT superfluous, it actually enhances the functionality of the design. That is what good design is all about, hence the saying “form follows function.” The iPhone makes apparent just how poorly designed current smart phone are.

    “As technologies become more complex, engineers will find it increasingly necessary to take human performance factors, & eventually organizational factors into account in their designs.”- Robert Pool, Beyond Technology

  • lonnie

    Thanks for your thoughtful explication, arto9. I have always been fond of Apple’s approach to both form and function and am personally excited about the promise of the iPhone (if they get to keep calling it that).

    I do believe the limitation to Cingular is a drawback, the pricetag seems rather dear, and the functional limitations or drawbacks will only really become apparent once a lot of people get them into their hands. We should revisit this in the summer.

  • Carolyn

    I’Hey arto9. I’ve never been called a “brain in a vat” before. That brings back all kinds of 1950s sci-fi movie memories – lol. Apple has an exclusive deal with Cingular for the iPhone. And it’s going to mean added cost on top of the purchase price, as Computerworld’s David Haskin points out in his Jan. 10 article. .

    As far as Apple aesthetics go, I’m hardly immune to them. I’ve been a Mac user for 16 years and currently own two of them. I’d love to trade in the non-intuitive Palm UI for the vastly superior Apple iPhone UI. But not for $600. And not if I’m forced to change service providers.

  • arto9

    Hey Carolyn. I’m no expert in breaking into new markets, but I believe Apple is probably doing what they can w/one phone & one carrier to get their foot in the door. But that is very likely to change relatively quickly. Apple’s initial iPod offering was a high end $500 device. They followed w/many other (and cheaper) versions. I expect they’ll do the same thing with phones – this 1st one is probably their flagship model.

    If Apple is going to be a major player in the cell phone market, it will take years, not months. And even people who will never buy an Apple product should be thrilled they’ve entered the market because all will benefit from some real competition in the area of innovation.

    I won’t buy an iPhone until they come out w/a cheaper version because I don’t need all of those features and therefore can’t justify the expense.

  • Carolyn

    Point carried, arto9 🙂