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iPhone Preview: All You Need to Know and Then Some
|by Noah Kravitz, Reviews
Editor ||27 June
It may or
may not be looked back upon as "the turning point" when the Late Steve
Jobs-era portion of Apple's history is written. It may or may not be
the biggest consumer product launch in the history of consumers and
products. It may or may not be the most overhyped piece of gadgetry
ever, even by Apple's own impressive standards. One thing's for sure,
however: This Friday June 29 at 6 PM local time, the Apple iPhone will
go on sale at Apple and AT&T stores nationwide, and online via
the Apple Store.
Will it be worth the hype, price tag, and inevtiably long lines? By
way of an answer, some facts and analysis follows ... and then it's up
to you to decide for yourself. For me personally, the answer is No - at
least until an unlocked model with widescreen keyboard mode surfaces.
But I'm still hoping to get a review loaner to play with awhile.
- Price: $499 (4GB storage) / $599 (8 GB)
with two-year service agreement. Price point puts it at the very
upper-end of carrier-supported handsets in the US, but less than unlocked flagship phones like the Nokia N95, which runs $700 without a contract.
- Service Plans: At
least six iPhone service plans have been announced, all of which include
unlimited data services and 200 SMS messages. The least expensive plan
will be $59.99/month for 450 voice minutes and 5000 nights and weekends minutes. The most expensive is
$219.99/month for 6000 minutes with unlimited nights and weekends. Early termination fee is $175, and it's unclear whether or not
cancelling service will, in fact, also shut off iPhone's media and WiFi browsing capabliites. Individual and family plans will be
available. See Apple's iPhone plan page for details.
Pricing is more or less the same as comparable plans for other AT&T phones - for instance, AT&T offers a monthly plan with 450 minutes and 5000
nights and weekend minutes for $39.99/month. Add to that the "Media Max 200" plan and you get unlimited Internet and 200 SMS messages for another
$19.99/month. That's one US penny cheaper than the entry-level iPhone plan, which offers the same amount of usage. Of course, iPhone will offer
Visual Voicemail while other AT&T phones won't. Maybe that's worth the extra cent each month.
- Tech: Quad-Band GSM with Bluetooth, EDGE and Wi-Fi connectivity. Locked
to AT&T network. EDGE is a lot slower than 3G for Web surfing, YouTube watching, and other
data-intensive services. This could be a big sticking point for iPhone critics - Sprint, Verizon, and
even AT&T offer much faster Web services on their 3/3.5G handsets. I wonder how many people (like my friend Don, for instance) will
get excited by iPhone's YouTube client only to be bummed out when they realize that watching YouTube at dial-up speeds is kind
of a drag. Apple's counter, of course, is "that's why it has Wi-Fi." But if you're used to EV-DO, you're used to broadband wherever
you have a cellular signal.
Given recent reports that some "made for iPhone" Web 2.0 apps run just fine on Nokia Series 60 phones - the Nokia S60 browser is based
on Safari technology - it'd be interesting to do a side-by-side comparison of iPhone with Cingular's Nokia N75. N75 ain't as pretty, but it does 3G.
- OS and Apps: iPhone will run OS X, though it won't be as full-featured as an OS X Mac. And there's that whole wacky multitouch touschreen
with the accelerometer doohickey. According to the Apple PR machine, Safari on
iPhone will be like Safari on the Mac. iPhone will run all kinds of widget apps, including custom Google Maps and YouTube software. "Third-party apps" will come
in the form of Safari-compatible Web 2.0 applications, many of which have already been published around the Web. iPhone will synch with iTunes and iSync (iCal and Address Book), and reports of
limited sync functionality with Windows-based email and PIM software have surfaced.
iPhone is also the new iPod, with widescreen video capabilities and Cover Flow navigation. This is the big point of interest for me, not so
much because I want a wide-screen iPod with Cover Flow, but because I'm curious to see if and when Apple will release a non-phone iPod based on the
new OS and widescreen functionality. On the one hand, it's the shot in the arm iPod needs to stay on top, and I imagine that a 80 or 120 GB iPod with
the "new OS" and a multitouch touchscreen would sell hand over fist. On the other hand, iPhone sells for nearly twice as much as iPods, plus Apple gets
a slice of AT&T's pie on each new service activation. While I'd be surprised if the new iPod was only ever available with a built-in phone, I wouldn't
be entirely shocked by it. At the least, I imagine Apple will hold off on a revamped 6G iPod for awhile. Though I'm sure the rumor mill will start buzzing about it
about 20 minutes after iPhone hits the streets.
- First Generation Blues: Conventional wisdom says don't buy first-gen Apple products unless you absolutely "gotta have it" as soon as it
launches. Considering iPhone is more or less an entirely new hardware and software platform, expect bugs. Then again, a decent number of these things
have been spotted in public over the past six months, so it stands to reason that Apple's been working extra-hard to get all the kinks ironed out before
launch day. Still, something's bound to go wrong once a few hundred test units turns into a few million "Jesus Phones" being worked over by a demanding
- Will the Keyboard Hold Up? Half the reason I'm on the fence about iPhone has to do with price (and my still-binding T-Mobile contract). The other
half has to do with the lack of a physical keyboard. I've used a few touchscreen-only phones in the past six months or so, and typing on them sucks, plain and simple. I was very
excited to try out the Motorola ROKR E6 - a slim, light, music-centric phone with a touchscreen and real Web browser - only to be shocked that the virtual QWERTY keyboard
was tiny and lacked a widescreen mode. I haven't yet heard if iPhone has a widescreen keyboard mode, so I'm guessing the answer is no. I have heard that touchscreen typing
on iPhone is a lot more frustrating than Apple would have you believe. And that there's no QWERTY keyboard option for searching your contacts. We'll see.
iPhone's target market isn't corporate BlackBerry types, and tech hipsters will figure out how to use the virtual keybaord if the rest of iPhone is up to snuff. Still, I've come to
like phones that are either really tiny and comfortable or absolutely do it all with comfort to spare. iPhone is very slim, light, and sleek for a phone that
does so much. And the screen is huge. But if typing on it is a drag, that'll be a big knock on the thing for folks like me who want ease-of-use for things like scheduling appointments and keeping up
on text and email messages.
- Wait for HSDPA: While I understand Apple's rationale for going with EDGE wireless data instead of the faster but less available and more power-hungry HSDPA technology, the fact of the
matter is a rev. B iPhone with HSDPA has got to come soon if Apple is serious about selling cell phones. Power users are used to high-speed downloads on Sprint and Verizon's EV-DO networks, and with the
mobile music space heating up, it's hard to imagine people settling for EDGE for months to come when they can purchase and download 99-cent songs over Sprint's EV-DO network
right now. Continued deployment of AT&T's HSDPA network across more American markets should to a 3.5G iPhone that can make the most of those flashy Web browser and YouTube apps, and make a
mobile iTunes Music Store a reality. Apple knows mobile media is the short-term future of the cellular space in the US, so you know they're already preparing a faster
At any rate, I'm as curious as the rest of you to see what this thing's like in person, and how the public reacts to actually using it. About three weeks ago I rented some office space
in downtown Berkeley, CA. There's an AT&T store about four blocks from here, and while I've no plans to buy an iPhone, let alone stand in line for one, I may be curious enoguh
to stay at the office until 5:30 or so Friday and then head over to the store to see if they've actually got the thing on display so I can check it out myself. Either that or maybe
one of those PR folks will get back to me about a review loaner ...
In the meantime, however, don't take my speculating for it. Check out David Pogue's hands-on
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Kravitz is the Reviews Editor for PBCentral. A writer, educator,
and musician, he lives in Oakland, CA and is the author of Teaching and
Learning with Technology.