Thursday, June 28, 2007

iPhone Mania: The Little Appliance That Might

Kudos to David Pogue at The New York Times for a great review of the new iPhone from Apple. David's general view is that the appliance lives up to its hype, but he points out a number of key shortcomings, such as inferior text input (keys appears on the flat glass display), downright awkward phone call initiation, the need to ship it back to Apple after a year or so to get the battery replaced (a la iPod) and inferior network performance from AT&T. But while the iPhone may turn out to be the worst of both worlds for people already attuned to sophisticated mobile devices such as Blackberries (no coincidence that the splash ad for this article was for their new sleek model) the key to the iPhone's appeal centers around its ability to be a content-serving device like no other. GPS-keyed maps make the device a traveler's godsend for navigating unfamiliar territories and coming up with nearby services. The intuitive interface enables a user to shift to Web content seamlessly in a full-featured browser that comes with a very affordable (USD 20/month) internet access plan that may yet knock the legs out from underneath many an online content deal.

Ah, but with limitations there, as well. Flash and Java are not enabled in the browser, so the tons 0f online video and animated content available online is out of bounds. Of course there's video and audio from the iTunes store, which is most probably the point: after years of platform ju-jitsu from Microsoft to frustrate publishers it's Apple's turn to make it that much harder to come up with a platform-independent distribution strategy. But common file formats such as PDF, Word and Excel are accessible via iPhone so it will at least be useful for serious reading to some degree. And unless you're in an AT&T wireless hotspot broadband performance isn't going to be an option in most instances.

I think of the iPhone as a very portable Microsoft Surface - an appliance that is ahead of many technologies' ability to sustain a very compelling product vision but that nevertheless gets people jazzed about the possibilities of a new way of looking at computing. Unlike Microsoft's table-bound Surface, though, the iPhone is perfect for a younger, mobile generation not interested in plunking down thousands of dollars for a major piece of...furniture? But iPhone's most important impact on the content marketplace is likely to be its ability to create demand for broadband wireless on a mass scale, demand that's likely to fire up competition from other wireless carriers to deliver both more coverage and more effectively enabled interfaces to the Web. AT&T wins this round for Web access, but what will happen when Verizon enables YouTube access? Consider this iPhone debut the launch of the real mobile Web - with some frenetic developments yet to come.
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