Every time we post a story at Techdirt about the iPhone, we see the comments rapidly bifurcating into a religious battle between the "fanboy idiots who make excuses for the useless little iPhone like a beaten wife just because it's trendy and shiny" and the guys who "whine because [the iPhone doesn't do] everything and cost nothing" (this is what the two sides are saying, not us). It's sad to see such an interesting, seminal device be reduced to "nyah, nyah" levels of discourse. Our position on the iPhone is hopefully more objective. No, it's not perfect, lists of gripes are frequently made, but overall it's the phone to beat.
Recently, we've decried Apple's autocratic governance of their App Store. But don't let that mislead you into thinking we're down on the whole product. The iPhone is a turning-point device, which changed the usability level of the mobile Internet. All of a sudden, the mass market - who until then had no interest in muddling with clumsy mobile data services - was able to connect to the web on their phone, browse sites, download apps, and truly realize the promise of "anytime, anyplace, any info". The phone also revolutionized the mobile phone UI. While the other handset vendors developed each application and hardware in its own silo, Apple designed it all as a single whole experience, also sketching-in the content and application ecosystem. And it's been no shock that good user experience matters a whole lot! Lastly, the iPhone shattered the iron grip carriers had on handset vendors, and the phones their customer's eventually owned. Apple yanked some of that control away, and their more open (than carriers) approach has blown open the barn doors of developer creativity. The iPhone sales figures and data usage stats are in. Its a success. So if you are one of the people that says the iPhone is nothing more than a shiny toy, you need to come back to reality.
So why do so many criticize the iPhone, if it's so great? I think it's because they make the classic marketing mistake of thinking "It's all about ME." It isn't. The iPhone haters see the limitations (hard keys, cut/paste, tethering...) of the phone, and they focus on how the phone doesn't have any tech breakthrough or meet THEIR specific needs. But the mass market is what really matters in business. Is the mass market even aware of the limitations of their iPhone? If you told one of them, would they care? They would tell you that, on the contrary, their iPhone has not limited them, it has empowered them to access the mobile services and networks that have been "available" since 2000, but were blocked by poor user experiences and walled gardens.
I liken the whole debate to the stick-shift versus automatic transmission debate decades ago (still in the EU). True motoring aficionados could not accept the dumbed-down, lazy automatic transmission. They insisted on doing the work themselves. It was harder, but it was "the only way to truly 'drive' the automobile". Tough luck if it put driving out of the reach of some. By now, the mass market has decided that "easier" trumps a religious argument about "real feel for the road". Good products take people to their destination as easily as possible. The market has spoken: Getting there is not half the fun.