Tuesday, January 09, 2007

It's official: iPhone is the Next Big Thing

Wow. It's real. It's a smartphone indeed. It's also an iPod. And what few hoped or predicted, it's also a handheld computer, in the truest sense of the word. And it is called iPhone.

All in all, it seems to be almost exactly what I was secretly hoping for.

Here's where I wondered if Apple was going to add advanced input capabilities to an upcoming iPod:

If and when the touchscreen iPod becomes real, it could allow for an input area large enough to contain a QWERTY keypad [...]. And if the iPod gets a QWERTY, it may take on a completely new life with vastly expanded capabilities. Its software is quite advanced even today, and just imagine what could happen to the platform if its greatest limitation, its lack of input options, could be overcome...
(Apple files yet another weird hardware patent, Mac Thought Crime, November 17)

Here's where I speculated that Apple could revive the ailing PDA market with the iPod:
In what would be a small step for Apple, but a great step for the ailing PDA market, a new-generation iPod could sprout advanced PDA features any day, and take over the PDA market overnight.
(How the iPod could save the PDA without trying (too hard), Mac Thought Crime, November 21)

Here's where I pondered a scenario where Apple would turn the touch-screen iPod into a completely new platform, with phone capabilities:

[Scenario] 3. It's iPod 2.0, and it can do phones as well: Apple expands the iPod platform into a handheld computer, iPhone is just one application. OK, imagine this. Apple doesn't stop at putting video, games, calendars and some basic contact management on an iPod. Nope: Apple takes it all the way to the next level. With a touch-screen interface, the iPod could do anything. Apple could kick new life into the PDA market it created (though it wasn't Steve). It could consummate the mission of this MP3 player of truly evolving into the Next Big Thing. Oh, and it could also function as a phone. Let's dedicate one model to that. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the iPhone.

Odds: 9 to 1. I'd put in a larger number, but this is Steve Jobs we're talking about.
Wow factor: 300%. As in, "Holy @#$^%!!!"
(So iPhone equals iPod plus what? Mac Thought Crime, December 4)

Here's where I guessed (absolutely correctly) that Cisco may license the iPhone name to Apple:
Maybe Apple has sought a deal with Cisco about the iPhone name all along, and talks have broken down only recently. Or what the hell, maybe they haven't, and Cisco even allowed Apple to also use the name (without any announcements, of course). Maybe Cisco just wants to ride Apple's publicity a bit. Anything is possible, as far as we all know.

By the way, Apple does own iphone.org.
(Deal with it: Apple's cellphone is still coming, Mac Thought Crime, December 18)

And here are a few last-minute thoughts from earlier today that didn't turn out to be as clueless as I feared:
Touch-screen iPod, iPod phone, Apple smartphone, and the thing that makes Jobs more excited than the Macintosh did… How many things are these? Do they all exist? Or is it just one thing, grossly misunderstood?
(Confusing, contradictory rumors abound on Apple's new device, Mac Thought Crime, January 9)

I hope Apple is in a position today to become more like Sony, and diversify. Create new things. As in, mobile phones and PDAs. Apple-branded versions of these devices have been but a pipe dream for a long time, but not any more. The iPod phone is a given (though not necessarily at the Expo), and the iPod PDA is a possibility.

As it turns out, at least one of Apple's MWSF posters will tout the year 2007 (as does Apple's homepage). Will we see a(n unlikely) roadmap for the rest of the year, or will 2007 start with a bang? We'll see very soon.
(Will 2007 turn Apple into Sony? Mac Thought Crime, January 9)

But, of course, this was all mindless, idle speculation. What we have is an actual product that Apple has finally announced, taking up almost its entire two-hour MWSF keynote.

(OK, the device formerly known as iTV, and now referred to by an unpronouncable Apple symbol, also got some spotlight.)


With the iPhone, Apple did not deliver on the expectations of the market or even the fans: it delivered on the wildest pipe dreams of its most rabid fans.

Who could have realistically expected all of these (in one device):

  • A handheld device running OS X? (Note how it's not called Mac OS X.)
  • A phone at that, with truly spectacular and innovative features?
  • A multitouch interface with some incredibly intuitive input methods?
  • A widescreen iPod with 320 x 480 pixels of screen real estate?
  • An entirely new, future-proof platform that can be extended indefinitely by software updates?
  • A beautiful and futuristic user interface, with elegant, smooth animations and transitions?
  • An almost non-Apple-like, cool, futuristic, yet elegant industrial design?
  • Such a tiny form factor?
  • Proximity, light and acceleration sensors?
This is just all too good to be true.

So, did Apple screw it up?

Of course, I'm still hyperventilating from the effects of the Reality Distortion Field. But let me try and approach the iPhone a bit more objectively.

In October, I posted a list of requirements for a smartphone I'd buy. Let me revisit that list, and see how the actual iPhone stacks up:

1. Give me a QWERTY – Done!
Apple does include a virtual QWERTY keypad on the iPhone. (How it will handle accented characters, copying, pasting, etc., remains to be seen. These can mean a lot.)

2. Let me work with files – Don't know.
There's very little information available on Apple's iPhone site. Even elementary things are missing, such as what processor the device will use. My second requirement isn't addressed either, but my bet is that we'll soon find out. Anyway, I would be surprised if the iPhone couldn't sync its files with a Mac (or a PC). However, it looks as though iTunes will be the main vehicle for syncing. (Note that the iPhone is also PC compatible.)

3. No artificial quotas, please – Probably done!
This was my request:
I hope iPhone will ship with plenty of flash RAM. But whether it's 128MBytes or 2GBytes, I want to be put in charge of how I use it. If I want to store a million SMS messages and no sound files, I don't want some silly quota that caps the number of text messages at, say, two hundred.
I guess iPhone's version of OS X isn't interested in such quotas. But we can't know for sure.

4. Let me save my text messages – Don't know.
SMS is handled by an iChat-like application. I saw no hint of any ability to save transcripts, but perhaps it's done automatically. Again, we'll see.

5. Don't make me use the touch screen – A big 'No,' but maybe it's all good
Almost the entire iPhone user interface is based on direct manipulation of screen objects, much more so than any device before it. This flies directly in the face of what I wished for, i.e. that a keypad and some controls should be able to suffice for any actions. However, maybe it's all for the better. I just want to be able to perform most operations, like typing and sending an SMS by one hand, and without moving all around the map all the time. I'll have to see an iPhone in person before I can decide.

6. I want a browser with multiple windows – Done!
'Nuff said. A big thumbs-up.

7. Multitask, and honestly, too – Done!
Apple is very emphatic about this feature.

8. Nothing should take more than three keypresses – Don't know, not really.
This is what I wrote:
Menus are all the rage, and Apple adores the iPod's limited number of buttons. But still, going into a freakin' menu so that I can change playback volume is a bit of an annoyance. On a cellphone, I need to be able to start typing an SMS after two keystrokes. I need to be able to locate a contact and place a call in two seconds (e.g. by entering a search mode, and selecting the contact by typing an initial letter or two of some of its contact info). I know Steve Jobs has probably fired people over the number of any extra keys, but there should be just enough of them to let me access any function in a few seconds.
My, oh my… The iPhone has only one button! The horror…!
But let's see the demos on Apple's iPhone page.

Calling: this requires a bit too many taps for my taste. I'd tap "Phone," the "Contacts," and then tap-search for my contact. I need additional taps to place the call. Maybe this can be quicker, and it's certainly not horrible. Without trying it myself, I have no way of knowing even whether this is the best way possible.

One thing that puzzles and disappoints me, though, is the lack of search boxes, both in Phone and iPod modes. I'd expect the inventor of Spotlight and the famed iTunes search box to do something about this. I mean, what if I only remember someone's first name? I need to go through my entire contact list to find him or her. The Treo may have beaten the iPhone in this.

Music: at least there's a separate volume widget that's always present in vertical mode, so you don't have a proliferation of menus.

SMS: accessible by one touch, but the demo doesn't show how to start a new conversation (rather than continuing an old one).

All in all, some quick-access features are impressive, while others may seem a bit lacking. And we have too little information as of now. This one also goes undecided.

So there you have it, iPhone has at least four of my eight requests covered. Another three look promising, and two are a bit worrying. But the iPhone also redefines some concepts, so these points may not even all apply to it.

In any case, one thing is certain. I will get one. And if I could get one today, I would get one today. I'd stand in a queue till midnight.

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