iPhone: gorgeous, but...

Posted on Thu 11 January 2007
So Apple finally announced the long awaited iPhone. This is a gorgeous phone with very innovative and clever user interface features. Every other mobile phone now looks a bit old-fashioned compared to this one, even the upcoming Nokia N95 I was considering to buy.

I'm really impressed by the iPhone and like it a lot. But after the excitement while watching the presentation, some important concerns regarding several aspects of the thing have emerged. Here they are, in no particular order.

Single-handed operation. All the demos ( keynote and CBS interview) show two-handed operation. How usable is the iPhone with a single hand? The precision of a fat thumb is ok with a small keyboard, but is it precise enough for the touch screen?

Battery life. 5 hours talking and 16 hours listening music. But how much in idle mode? How often should it be plugged on a charger? Also, the battery doesn't seem to be replaceable, which is bad.

Operator locking. The deal with Cingular sucks. Why require a 2 year subscription with Cingular from people wanting an iPhone? Having Cingular being the only operator to sell the iPhone+subscription bundle would have been fine, plenty of people are ready to pay the phone a bit more but stay with their current operator (or bring the iPhone abroad). A justification of this exclusive partnership is the "Visual Voice Mail" feature, that is basically simply calling a service that give back to the phone a list or {date/time, caller number, listen status} triples and allow random access to the voice mail from the phone. Quite trivial.

SIP client. The iPhone has wi-fi, like any good smartphone. One of the very nice things this allows is the use of a SIP client to have cheap calls when you're in range of a hotspot or at home. Considering the deal with Cingular, I don't think Apple will be promoting the use of SIP on the phone, as it cuts down revenue for the operator... We just have to hope that iPhone will be opened to 3rd-party applications (but see below).

GPS. The Google Maps widget is very cool, although one may wonder why there's a specific application, and not Safari for this. Is it to ease integration with the phone feature? Anyway, a mobile phone is... mobile and having a GPS built-in like in the N95 would have kicked ass.

Camera. Only 2 megapixel with such a gorgeous image album in the phone with this amazing multi-touch? Are you kidding? I don't think people will upload their pictures on their phone, and so the album is there for pictures taken with the phone's camera. In comparison, the N95 has a very cool 5 Mpix camera. The iPhone also missed a front-side camera for video-conferencing, but I guess it will come with the 3G model.

Storage. 4 or 8Gb for your musics, pictures and videos and all other application data. Sure, flash memory is very compact and has no mechanical parts, but this will very quickly be pretty small! At least a slot for additional memory cards would have been nice.

Third-party applications. It seems the iPhone won't be open to 3rd party applications. That tremendously sucks! All phones in this category do have some open API at least by means of Java MIDP. I can't believe this is true. Or will it be limited to Dashboard-style widgets written in HTML+JavaScript? That would be rather restrictive, unless they expose a rich JavaScript interface to the phone internals.

So considering all this, I don't think I'll rush to buy an iPhone when it becomes available in France. This device has a very nice user interface, but the above concerns will make me wait for the 2nd generation iPhone that will very likely correct most of these because of user pressure! Probably sometime in late 2008. I don't think I'll wait until then, and the N95 is still on track :-)

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