Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Who cares as long as it's sexy

I have been interviewing as many fortunate owners of the iPhone as I could come in contact with. What I have observed is either a severe case of herd-mentality denial or simply a slap in the face for the wireless industry that has been decades in the making.

Among many surprises about the iPhone, one that stood out to me the most is that the iPhone does not support picture messaging. The alternative functionality of sending pictures, or anything else for that matter, as email attachments is not supported either. The average iPhone user's response to this was that he/she had no need for pictures on a phone.

A certain iPhone user also described the Internet browsing experience over the EDGE network as “painful”. Another user commented that he would not even attempt to watch a streaming video outside of WiFi, but then added that he “hates YouTube anyway” (he and the rest of the world, right?). An eager user insisted, instead, that streaming video over EDGE was even faster than doing it from his computer over high speed Internet – obviously in denial!!

Furthermore, while the phone allows music side-loading only (no different than the iPod and not to mention a waste of the benefits of wireless connectivity and money left on the table from consumers' higher willingness to pay to purchase songs while on the go), the iPhone has been praised in the bloggsphere for having the potential to revolutionize the music industry. More denial.

Openness? Don’t even get me started. Besides Safari, nothing else in the device is open to developers: no keypad, no LBS, no codecs, no SMS, no J2MEE/BREW equivalent...

While the phone’s revolutionary touch-screen keypad provides for more and much needed screen real estate, it made it very difficult for me to enter text (my fingers are pretty small, mind you). That was acceptable to the owner of this particular iPhone because I am a newbie, after all, and I need to practice. This same user had been practicing for one week and yet kept fat fingering every other letter.

In terms of memory space, no one has denied that it is definitely a downgrade from the Video iPod. iPhone owners’ response?... They do not need the memory space for video because they can stream video (when sitting in front of their computer at an Internet cafĂ©, of course).

One area where eager iPhone adopters and I can certainly meet is the device’s extremely slick design. It is thin, light, has a relatively large screen, and aesthetically pleasing rounded corners. The UI is a beauty with its large bright colored icons on a dark background. Unlike the iPod, the phone will actually resist the physical abuse of the average mobile user.

So what could this mean to the rest of the mobile industry? For years thousands of competent minds have been trying to second guess what customers really wanted out of their phones. After voice and SMS, we brought users access to information over data networks. It turned out that what we provided (WAP 1.X) was not the Web, so we gave them WAP 2.0 with images, colors, fonts, tables. It was still not enough. With more powerful devices, we were able to provide Internet browsers, but since the limited machines cannot bear to process much of the content that is out there today, this is still not good enough. So we added more bells and whistles (cameras, MMS, LBS. Video, Music)… Not enough because the networks were too slow? Answer: 3G networks. But no. Not enough.

So, could it be that over the course of 20+ years working to improve the mobile device the so-called experts were simply heading in the absolute wrong direction? Could it be that at the end of the day, despite of anything they said, consumers did not really want feature-rich empowering mobility tools after all? Could it be that after all, all the consumer really wants is an overpriced sexy-looking gadget that shouts social status to the world? Hopefully not (and I doubt it), but only time will tell…

For the time being I am holding on to my $600… and holding out for the iPhone 2.0... perhaps.

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