The Contrarian View Of The iPhone

from the this-post-was-written-on-a-mac dept

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for a few years, you’ve probably noticed one or two stories about the rumored Apple iPhone. We’ve largely avoided them, because really, nothing’s changed, and despite what anybody says, or reads into patent applications, there’s no hard information. But the rumors continue to gather pace, with many people now believing the iPhone will be announced at Macworld in January. The common thinking appears to be, basically, that the iPhone will be the greatest mobile phone ever made, and will totally dominate the industry, leaving established vendors in its wake. But here’s a thought — what if the iPhone sucks? An interesting story over at CNET takes the contrarian view, and makes a number of salient points, in particular the widespread assumption that Apple will simply be able to waltz into this market and instantly get things right. It argues this perception is based largely on Apple’s success with the iPod, but the mobile-phone market and the MP3 player market are radically different. MP3 players are relatively simple and straightforward devices, while mobile phones are technically much more complex. The simplicity of an MP3 player allowed Apple to focus on product design and the user interface; in addition to those areas — where handset vendors already provide significant competition — Apple will have to work on the technical underpinnings just to make the phone work, and that’s an area where it could have some significant issues. There’s little doubt that any iPhone would enjoy a significant initial sales pop, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see it not be a long-term success, particularly in the mass market. One more significant reason: price. In the US, and many other countries, consumers are conditioned to paying very little for their handsets, thanks to subsidies from mobile operators. Unless Apple can get the iPhone into operators’ distribution networks (with most indications that it won’t, and will sell the device itself), relatively few consumers will line up to pay a few — or several — hundred dollars for it.

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Comments on “The Contrarian View Of The iPhone”

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Jonathon says:

Re: Re:


I’m all for open source, but that makes zero sense. A phone being open source does not automagically make it simple.

Bandwagons are fun to jump on, but at least know ***something*** about it before talking about it. Speaking nonsense about something you don’t understand will generally give others a worse opinion.

Joel Coehoorn says:

If they sell a phone that plays mp3’s, they’re doomed. They might have some success selling an iPod that just happens to also make phone calls if you plug in your sim card. The key will be execution, and getting the branding (call it an iPod, not the iPhone, sell it next to the mp3 players and iPods, not next to cell phones) and marketing message right.

Ed says:

Re: Treo 650

The Treo 650 has been out for a while now, and it is an adequate phone and mp3 player. Plus you can use it as a PDA, camera, take movies, play games, edit excel and word, and play chess (palm apps).

The interface is not totally braindead, but not as “elegant” as a one button mouse or a “dial” on your mp3 player.

Yeah, the camera stinks. Yeah, it only does 2 GB SD. Yah, no stereo bluetooth. But it does everything else adequately well.

And the new treos have various improvements.

Danno says:

I would pay several hundred dollars for a Mobile phone that I don’t feel compelled to replace because the devices features have suddenly become outmoded because they were never intended to do anything beyond which the carriers desired for them to do.

I’m not really the average Mobile phone user though.

As for the article, the writer cites two “failures”: the mac mini and… prices not increasing when Apple sold their computer for $100 more?

Okay, I’m not even going to touch the second one. I think the Mac Mini has been booted out of the limelight because of Mactels. The Mini was proposed as an easy way to wean yourself off of Windows. With the Mactels… why bother? Get the performance of a for-reals Mac and the safety net of Windows.

Couldn’t he have come up with something more relevant? Like the Newton?

Anyway, the Apple tax in this case is going to be worth getting a device that has the good ol’ Apple commitment to UI and device design, especially in a field of devices that has traditionally lacked good UI (design they do okay on).

Erik says:

Re: Danno

I have news for you, the iPhone is already “outmoded” six months before it is to be released. The lack of 3G is the killer for people who actually use Smartphones. This device will in no way appeal to those users who need the power to add third-party apps. They will run to Symbian and Windows Mobile devices. I can only guess that Jobs anticipates that this will indeed be a device used by younger people who would never utilize the power app features of a Smartphone.

You may not want to feel compelled to replace your handset every six months (a sentiment I would agree with), but the reality is that nothing Apple does is going to shake the control of the cellular network providers…short of Apple installing their own network.

The way this will work is that people will buy the iPhone in droves initially, but then the well will run dry. Apple will release an updated version with 3G and the ability to run third-party apps and all of those early adopters will run for the new device. Although your quest is laudable, Apple is in no way looking to help you keep from having to purchase a new device every six months. They simply want to be the ones to do it.

Anonymous Coward says:

… mobile phones are technically much more complex …

And for me, that’s part of the problem … I don’t need a digital camera in my phone (in fact, as a consultant I am not permitted to bring my phone into some facilities for the very reason that it has a camera), I don’t need a calendar, games, office tools, etc, etc. What I NEED is coverage and clarity. Unfortunately, Apple can’t address that issue.

I can see how an integrated DAP would be nice (one less gadget on my “utility belt”), but not essential.

Chris says:

Let me guess…It will allow users to buy mp3’s, games, video, wallpapers, etc. through an interface similar to iTunes? Great. So all I have to do is cancel my 32$/month Verizon contract for my current cell phone for a measly $250, buy the new iPhone for whatever they decide to charge, then pay probably even more a month for content I can get on my phone right now for free? Sweet….I’ll stick to my VX8300 with a 1gb micro SD card which I can store FREE Mp3’s, video’s (I have a full season of Seinfeld on it right now) that I can transfer to and from my computer without paying a damn thing to Verizon. Anyone who purchase ringtones, mp3’s, videos, whatever for their cell phone is a sucker IMHO, but then again someone has to buy this garbage…

Leo says:

Apple could get it right

Part of the reason for the simplicity of MP3 players is Apple’s design approach and others trying to emulate. There is a good possibility that Apple could make a great phone by simplifying it to meet their design guidelines and leaving out things that just aren’t necessary. There have been articles here before bemoaning the fact that many people want a cel phone that is just a phone. If Apple could provide one I think they could capture quite a bit of the market. It just has to do one thing well, let you talk to other people.

Jonathon says:

Re: Apple could get it right


Although the iPod has a very tight integration with iTunes it is at least possible to use other software (winamp plugins rock).

Syncing contacts, email and calendar is a pretty big deal. If they make it so that it doesn’t work with Outlook (only iCal and whatever else) then it will be doomed to be an accessory for existing mac users with a *few* converts here and there, but nowhere near the widespread adoption of iPods.

Bumbling old fool (profile) says:

Past precedence...

Past precedence does not always yield expectations. Not when the precedence is percieved to be negative.

If you beat me up and took my lunch money every day, I am not going to be expecting the next kid to move into your old house to do the same thing. I will likely be quite relieved instead.

Almost everyone I know that has actually paid attention when obtaining their phone is well aware that the phone company is giving you the phone at a loss, but will make that money back and then some later on.

You are effectively taking out a loan that you neither want (and often dont need) to get your phone. Alot of people don’t actually like getting treated that way.

I think apple will be an overwhelming success in the cell market if they can seperate the phone from the voice/data provider. I would LOVE to be able to change my portable computer’s ISP without having to get a new computer. Same thing with voice. Although, really, I shouldnt need a voice provider if I could use a real voip client on it.

Alas, our own government is killing voip to save the children. But thats for another rant.

You might point to SIM cards, and say “Look, you already CAN” but face it: you still can’t get a decent monthly subscription. You either have to sign up for a year or two and face huge termination costs (even though they dont have subsidy reclamation needs…), or you do not get your service.

This is largely due to the low availability of non-provider-bound phones on the market. Consumer put up with the abuse because there is no alternative.

My guess (and nothing more than a guess) is that apple’s phone is going to be targeted for breaking down that barrier. Apple’s phone could be a success by being the champion that rescues us from the bully.

I have no idea how they can succeed, but I do know that if they take that strategy then even in failing, all cell consumers will be better off.

eduardo says:

And phones are more complex than maintaining and designing an OS.

Hmm, Apple succeeds because MP3 players are simple and since a computers OS is complex then that means that OS X sucks and the iMacs, Macbooks, Power Macs and Minis were designed by somebody else.

Price, that’s it! all Apple products are expensive so nobody will buy them that means that Sandisk and Creative are the best mp3 players since they are the cheapest and that is the only reason people will buy them. Nobody will pay for an iPod and those sales figures are a myth.

How did the iPod beat everybody else? Simple it was well designed in software and hardware. How many phones are known for their great software? or are they known only by their style?

Will an iPhone exist? maybe
is this wishfull think? probably

Vasco DaGameboy says:

Coolness factor

One thing to be sure, the coolness factor will only get you so far in certain areas. Phones are all about usability. There are some people who buy a certain phone because of the brand name or the features, but the overwhelming majority of cell users will forego all the fancy features in favor of a phone that works well. In other words, I don’t care if it plays music…I’m concerned about how well I can hear my wife or my boss while driving.

There have been phones with iTunes integrated and they have been huge flops (ROKR anyone?) The ability to play music is not a huge selling point for phones. The iPhone will have to bring something really new and different to the cell phone market to distinguish itself.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Coolness factor

I don’t think iPod is dominant simply because its cool, it’s simply simple. Others have bigger screens, integrated FM or voice recording, etc. But nobody makes it easier to pull out of the box, link to a computer and load your cd collection, buy online music/videos if you want and get support if something goes wrong. Apple is the master of simple elegance, proving time and again that less is more. If the iPhone follows that blueprint, it will be a success.

That said, key here is a partner or partners in the carrier space, whithout a verizon or cingular, I don’t see iPhone going far.

franticindustries (user link) says:

A really good point

Questioning Apple’s ability to make a good cell phone is on the mark. Making a good interface for a phone is not easy; Motorola still haven’t figured how to fix some basic problems which Nokia and SE don’t have for years. And then there’s the question of reaching an agreement with the mobile operators, because if they don’t push the product actively, I doubt it can achieve success anywhere near the iPod.

Jonathon says:

Re: Re:

Its possible that it will have the ability to do VoIP, but for it (the iPhone) to be a success it is going to have to be drop dead simple to use (like the iPod).

I’m guessing that even if it does, that won’t be its selling point and heres why.

VoIP require a reasonably fast data connection. We’ll assume wifi. A wifi radio requires a decent amount of power to operate. If the battery life sucks, then it will fail.

The phone will have a chance if it functions well as a phone…with maybe some iTunes/music features…but it will be a phone first. If it is less usable than existing (cheaper/free) phones then *most* aren’t going to justify the higher pricetag (rumored at $250). So battery life, and call quality have to be as good or better than existing products. The polished UI will only come into play and justify the price if basic functions are adequate.

Beebop says:

So what

This is the worry of so many? “What if it sucks?” When I take off out of the house, I grab my cell for sure but not always the iPod. Why? You guessed it! Because it’s more of necessity to be able to make calls, not because it’s an enjoyable experience. The “iPhone” won’t be a mobile phone from Apple, it’ll be an iPod that can also make calls… Problem solved! This approach to making an iPod first and phone-feature second is why this thing will be a huge hit. I don’t know about anyone else but when I go to make a call, all I want to do is make a frigin call, I don’t need all the other clutter. Phone makers just add a bunch of crap they think we might want… Apple is smarter than that.

The infamous Joe says:

Open source, anyone?

I don’t care about the iphone, not at all. If it’s good, I’ll buy it (maybe) if it sucks I won’t. Easy enough.

I did read about people talking about open source phones– which reminded me of this I read earlier today. Enjoy.

Is it considered bad form to post a wired link on techdirt? I sure hope not. 🙂

JT says:

If it breaks the Carriers Hold on Cell Phone

The only thing I looking forward to about this phone is that if it is popular enough, maybe it will break the U.S. CDMA carriers holds on what phones are sold for use on their system. If not, that maybe its interface will be left alone by Verizon. I can’t stand carrier domination of phones offered and their features. Verizon, IMHO, is the worst about this. With my luck the iPhone will be GSM.

DV Henkel-Wallace says:

Good speculation

Nice to see a slightly more sober analysis (and I loved the iBag).

But be that as it may: Apple could avoid the carrier problem by setting up an MVNO. I hope they do. It could work for them too because they could set up their own over-the-wire services. Then they could sync tunes over the air or over the wire and not worry about what anybody else says.

Still, weenie expectations run so high they’ll surely be disappointed. And truth be known, outside the blogosphere, most people have no idea that Apple might even release a phone at all.

GaryMurray says:

Cisco Trumps Jobs

News today is that iPhone is not even a registered trademark of Apple!!!!!
Evidently Cisco ownes the rights due to one of their many purchases. In fact iPhone was rolled out unsuccessfully in 1997 but lost the dial tone. Now they have re-released a working internet wifi kind of thing that looks kind of promising.
Steve Jobs has definitely lost pace with the marketplace on this one. Look for whole slew of replicants to flood the market before Apple gets their stuff together.

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