Now the iPhone is available in more than just the US, it's somewhat ironic that I'm writing this piece from the State where the phone was originally purchased some five months ago. Apple is notorious for hardware lock-in and their behaviour over the iPhone has meant for many the Apple honeymoon ended far quicker than the Cupertino based firm would have hoped.
The skinny is this, Apple has created one of the most desirable objects on the planet. For many years mobile phones have been desired by the mass public, but the iPhone brings turns desire into lust. The combination of striking looks, an outstanding user interface and the best mobile phone screen currently available means that you'll want one. But should you get one?
For the purposes of this article I'm leaving out comparing regional price plans. It's commonly known that Apple takes a cut from these price plans so their efforts to keep the device locked is far from surprising. The problem, for Apple at least, is that an unlock is freely available and has managed to keep pace with the latest firmware releases. Typically all that's missing with "unlocked" iPhones on networks other than Apple's intended one is video voicemail. Unless you've experienced video voicemail there's very little to miss.
The vitals are quad band GSM radio, WiFi and Bluetooth support, iPod touch functionality, a 2 megapixel camera, 8Gb of flash based storage and an utterly superb touch sensitive screen. The hardware specifications are, apart from the screen, distinctly average. There's no forward facing camera, no MMS support, no GPS (even though there is a Google Maps application preinstalled) and there's problems if you want to earphones other than the ones supplied.
The problem with the earphones occurs because the jack is recessed into the body, so much so that if your earphone's jack has a plastic or rubber jacket at its neck, it probably won't fit. I remedied this by taking a pair of nail clippers to the jack and while I got my Shure units to work, it wasn't pretty. Also I'm unsure how many people would mutilate their expensive earphones like I did but an accurate guess would be very few.
Managing your iPhone's contacts, music, videos and pictures is done through iTunes which is without doubt the most cumbersome piece of junk I've ever had the misfortune to use. I actually gave up trying to make it work on my Windows workstation, instead resorting to using my Powerbook. I just want an application where I can use the iPhone's memory as a portable flash disk and that's it. The inability to do that coupled to the utterly despicable iTunes software forced upon the user is by far the worst aspect of owning this device.
The lacklustre experiance is continued if you have normal sized hands. Because there is no tactile keyboard, the keyboard which is displayed on screen is too small. Although text prediction is excellent and continually adapting, it's still too small. The lack of stylus isn't a big issue, infact apart from getting over the reflex action of digging out a stylus, the fingers are a suitable replacement although single handed operation is quite hard.
So why a photograph of a smudged phone? Well this is how it looks after normal daily operation with maybe one rub against a sweater during the day. It survives absolutely fine, is scratch resistant and once the screen is lit up, most smudges become invisible.
For an Apple device, battery life is very good. On a long haul flight from Tokyo (lasting just over 12 hours) the iPhone played music for over 10 of those without problem. Although the battery did die on the Tube ride afterwards, it's respectable for a device which has such a serious screen, powerful processor and after all, playing music.
Physically the iPhone isn't small or light but it is thin. Weight can be forgiven as Apple has made the excellent decision of covering the screen with Sapphire Crystal a material usually reserved for expensive Rolex or Omega watches. The overall build quality is good, except for the little plastic black covering on the back of the phone which looks out of place. Overall, the design is unmistakably Apple.
Without question I have never had a device which resulted in so much attention being poured on its owner. The day after I got my iPhone I went to a conference which included some of the biggest names in the world of computer networks. These are professors, doctorates, people who have invented most of what we use on the Internet today, old people who aren't impressed by a glossy box all reduced to statements such as "can I just touch the iPhone, please" or showing me respect which as a scribe I rarely get (or deserve).
A few days later at Frankfurt airport security, when asked to place my carry-on, wallet, phone and so on through the X-Ray scanner, I was stopped not to be searched but rather so the security guards could play around with the iPhone. For a minute or two they seemed oblivious to the fact that other people were actually waiting to board a plane. There is no other bit of technology that has ever caused such curiosity and interest. Apple's immense branding has made the iPhone.
As I said at the start, no matter what negative points you read about the iPhone you'll still want one. It is hideously overpriced as a device and especially so when you factor in the (almost) compulsory line rental (wherever you are in the World), but it's all about the fuzzy feeling you get from owning one. That's what gadgets are about and that's what the iPhone delivers in spades.
So would I buy the iPhone again? If I needed a phone right now, probably. The only problem is the mobile phone market is full of nimble companies who know what they are doing. It's not like Creative, Microsoft or Sandisk who either took too long to produce a decent product or came late to the party. This time Apple really needs to produce not one generation of excellent product but two or three in order to really make inroads. The iPhone isn't a bad start though.