You’ve got to give it to Apple, they sure do know how to whip up a media frenzy. Actually, these days they don’t really have to do much – the “Cult of Apple” takes care of itself. Which is why everyone is eagerly waiting the release of the iPhone.
June 16 is the rumoured release date. Or is it June 20? There are so many rumours swirling that it’s hard to know which one is the least inaccurate, but it’s safe to say that sometime in June Apple will release the iPhone. And then thousands if not millions around the world will have a case of gadget-envy, particularly here in Asia where we won’t see it until 2008. The media, meanwhile, will be writing rave reviews, particularly those that think it might lead to a “review model” they can use themselves.
But then – and here’s my prediction part – something strange will happen. In a week or two the fuss will fade and people will start to realise an important point: it’s just a phone, and not a particularly “smart” one at that. And then people will start to find flaws in it, because let’s face it, version 1.0 of anything is going to have flaws, particularly something loaded with sensitive radios and electronics like a mobile phone.
But wait, it gets worse. People will start to question how much they paid for their flawed phone. There’s a lot of stuff I would like to buy right now for US$499 (the minimum price being floated) and I’m sure all of the people that handed over their hard-earned cash for an iPhone will be thinking the same thing. And they’ll also start to question the fact that they were forced to sign an exclusive deal with one operator, AT&T, for the next 12 months. So when the customer support lines are jammed with users complaining about their iPhone, they’ll just have to wait – no switching over to another operator, as they’re not allowed to use the Apple device (AT&T has a five-year exclusive contract in the US).
Anyway, that’s my prediction and I felt like getting it in early – I don’t want to be seen jumping on bandwagons after everyone else suddenly realises that the iPhone is a flop. It’s not the end of the rant, however.
I think there are a bunch of other reasons the iPhone will fail as well, at least in the version being touted to date. One of the main ones is that it will only work on GPRS/EDGE networks, not 3G. Let’s face it, one of the main features of “smart” phones is their ability to link to the Internet. Yet GPRS has failed to inspire the majority of users to go online with their mobile phones. The iPhone does have Wi-Fi, but that’s still spotty coverage compared to cellular.
Then there’s the fact that it’s a closed environment – no third-party apps invited to play, at least initially. One of the things that my friends who are avid smart phone users appreciate is the wealth of small apps that they can download on their phone, whether it’s for calculating the bets for a round of golf or for observing the constellations in the night sky. Or even for adding VoIP clients, so no cheap calls even if you do find a Wi-Fi hotspot.
And finally, there’s the competition. The likes of Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and LG won’t be idle bystanders as Apple tries to do to the mobile phone market what it did to MP3 players with the iPod. Building a mobile phone isn’t rocket science – it’s much more complex than that. And the traditional guys have been doing it for the best part of 20 years.
Steve Jobs recently remarked that the iPhone is “five years ahead of any other mobile phone”. To me, that smacks of arrogance and dangerously underestimates the opposition. These guys are churning out scores of new models every six months, in a multitude of formats and for every market segment. What they offer in the next quarter could likely surprise everyone, including Jobs, while what they offer now is arguably more than the iPhone today (the Nokia N95 springs to mind).
Apple, on the other hand, is struggling with the resources to produce this one model. It has already admitted to delaying its Leopard OS X operating system so that it could get the iPhone out the door. If and when it comes to Asia, you can guarantee that the region’s far more selective consumers will want to choose from more than a single model. And it’s in this regard, the ability to continue rolling out a wide selection of new models regularly, that Nokia, Motorola and the gang are likely “five years ahead” of any newcomer.
All of which is not to suggest that Apple shouldn’t be applauded for trying to enter the mobile arena. And I’m not suggesting that in future it won’t come out with a successful iPhone, particularly if it opens up to third-party software, embraces 3G and ditches the idea of “exclusive” carrier agreements when it comes to Asia. But iPhone version 1.0, in my opinion, will be a flop.
– Geoff Long