Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Apple Critic's iPhone Review

Many of my friends and co-workers were shocked to find out that I bought an iPhone, given that I've been very critical of Apple's high prices for lackluster products. Truth be told, I'm an equal opporunity critic. I can tell you how much Microsoft's -- or Motorola's, or Nokia's, Samsung, HTC, Nintendo, Sony, Linux -- products suck too.

The bottom line is that iPhone 3G is the best fit for my priorities in a device I carry with me at all times. Here are those priorities:
  1. Browse the web or run apps that use web services to get info (e.g. weather, stocks, facebook)
  2. Read and reply to emails
  3. Take calls
  4. Keep everyone's full contact info with me and sync that stuff
  5. Send SMS/IM without having to spell things out on a numeric keypad
  6. Keep my calendar with me

The reality is, most communication I have with people these days isn't over the phone. It's over IM and email. And actually, I mostly hate talking on the phone except to about 10 people in this entire world (I prefer face to face conversations, or written). That's how I arrived at these priorities.

As far as the iPod features go, I pretty much couldn't care less about that. Though the screen is a bit better on the iPhone, 16 GB won't hold all of my music anyway (around 42 GB), nor enough videos and music for a long trip. Without a subscription music service like my ZunePass, I simply don't care about iTunes music store. More on this in the Microsoft section below, and how Microsoft is blowing it.

So you may be disappointed to hear I'm not going to rail the iPhone in this review. I'm pretty happy with it. It lacks a lot of features, complaints about which you can read about in the Gizmodo comments and the like. I don't think serious smartphone users will find iPhone at all acceptable. Someone who uses a Blackberry very seriously for work, for example, will probably not find it to be feature-rich enough for them, or too slow downloading emails.

On the other hand, I commented to a friend the other day that if Steve Jobs could sell a toaster with no slots, he would -- and he'd be successful! Without consideration of price, the population prefers ease to openness, every time. So the fact the iPhone has no expandible memory, cut and paste, open platform, MMS, whatever... these are just meaningless to 99.9% of the population. The iPhone is the most perfectly closed consumer experience ever delivered in a device. If you're a typical consumer and don't know anything about what other smartphones offer, you just want a device to take to a "Genius Bar" when it breaks or the battery dies, then this is the perfect device for you and 200 million other people in this country. End of story.

Most people will like the iPhone itself. So let's take two companies that deserve to be sacked: AT&T and Microsoft.

I'll start with AT&T (aka "The Death Star"). If my #3 priority with a mobile device is to take calls, why should I care about the network quality? Verizon has a great network. I've found it to be remarkable at times where they have coverage and no one else does. Verizon has great coverage everywhere except three key places:

  • My work.
  • My mother's house.
  • My in-law's house.

And my work is covered perfectly by AT&T, since my employer has a microcell for their service in the building. So I pretty much figured I was getting mostly an upgrade in terms of time spent in locations to the performance of the network.

Kinda. Turns out I might have underestimated the importance of the VZ network. I make most of my calls in the car, and AT&T has proven to suck for that in just the first week driving on 280 and 101.

The problem isn't the GSM network. The GSM network has been fine. The problem is AT&T's 3G network. It's like navigating through a pound of Alpine Lace from the deli counter. In a single call the other day, I got 2 drops and at least 2 failed redials when trying to call back. The other night 3G dropped my call while standing still in my house. Nice.

Some cities have UMTS (aka 3G) deployed on 850mhz, like New York. 3G might work a lot better there. But for cities like San Francisco where it's deployed on 1900mhz, it just won't cut it. I was not able to get a solid 3G signal until I got to the airport. For those of you who know San Francisco, you know exactly how bad that is.

The iPhone 3G allows me to turn off the 3G network, but then what was the point of buying an iPhone 3G at all? For those of you who have an iPhone EDGE, I would recommend waiting unless you absolutely need GPS for some reason. Just upgrade your software and you'll get most of the benefits.

Now onto the biggest loser here: Microsoft.

Microsoft has all the money in the world. Seriously, they could buy most countries. They had a, what, 8 year head start with Windows Mobile (nee WinCE)? And still, Windows Mobile sucks ass. It has no streamlined, slick user interface. Put any consumer down for 5 minutes with an iPhone and any Windows Mobile phone. 9 times out of 10, they'll like the iPhone more even though:

  • It has less features than Windows Mobile
  • It has less support than Windows Mobile
  • It's less open for development
  • It doesn't run on your carrier (e.g. Verizon, Sprint)

Given that list of areas WinMo trumps iPhone, wouldn't you say Microsoft must have the worst marketers in the world? How come no one has ever lined up for a Windows Mobile phone, like, ever... in the history of mankind?

Furthermore, Microsoft is blowing any kind of chance to develop an ecosystem around their products.

My iPhone "just works" with my AppleTV and iTunes. If I'm watching a movie on the AppleTV, then I sync my movie to my iPhone, you know what happens.. it actually resumes at the place I left off! How's that for synchronicity? Simple usability features like this go completely unnoticed by Microsoft in developing their entertainment ecosystem -- i.e. Zune and Xbox 360.

The Zune's greatest strength is its subscription music. Yet from my Xbox 360 I can't access anything on the Zune store. I have to plug in my zune to play music from it on the 360, and even then i can't listen to the subscription stuff. The Zune software is great, but it's completely separate from everything else. I install Windows Media player and I still get the stupid URGE store. Microsoft is so inconsistent with all of this it's ridiculous.

Microsoft needs a healthy dose of reality for bringing all of this stuff together. They have the ability and money. Now it's time for someone with a clue about consumer products to take over the reins. J Allard is the closest thing they've ever had to this person, and maybe he's the right guy. If Microsoft comes out with a Zune phone -- and marketing wise they might want to drop the Zune name for that -- they should also drop all separation between Xbox Live, Zune, Windows Media, Media Center, and anything else media related and sell it all as one slick product to work with your Zune phone. Why does Microsoft cater to third parties like they did with Urge and PlaysForSure? Screw all that, make an amazing product in a closed system that Steve Jobs adores and maybe you'll finally get consumers on your side. Closed but easy, that's what people want and Microsoft hasn't figured out at all.


Anonymous said...

Amazing... You took the thoughts right out of my mouth. You are 110% right on. Apple would be smart to get someone with your bluntness and ideas for improvements on board. I'm not upgrading nor will I ever enable the MobileMe sync feature on my handset. I'm glad you're enjoying your iPhone and taking the good with the bad while recommending improvements. I hope you were able to get your money back for MobileMe.

Anonymous said...

Different people, different oppinions, I suppose.