The iPhone: I'll care later

Lee tries an iPhone prototype
After years of fan speculation and many incorrect predictions by rumor sites from "reliable inside sources", Apple finally announced the iPhone a few weeks ago at MacWorld 2007, to be released in June.

It's cool. Really cool. Apple gets major gadget points for this one. I'm very excited for it to come out, and I wish it were out today. I've been waiting for Apple to make a phone for a long time.

But I don't plan to buy one.

The iPhone looks great, but it's not what I want, need, or can justify for my phone.


Personally, I'm a Verizon Wireless guy. Their phones are terrible, their plans aren't notably cheap or flexible, their voicemail system is clunky, their phone web browsers are useless walled gardens, and most features offered by other providers' phones are locked down (behind additional fees) or completely absent. (Don't get me started on the uselessness of some of their recent efforts.)

But Verizon is extremely good for two things that I do a lot more often than trying to browse the web on a 2-inch screen, update to the latest pop-music ringtone, or take awful pictures:

  1. Make and receive calls.
  2. Connect to the internet with my laptop, using my phone as a modem wirelessly with Bluetooth.
Cingular's network reception and speech clarity are great — but only if you're on the observation deck of the Empire State Building on a clear day. It's useless in the middle of nowhere, like the Pennsylvania Turnpike, upstate* New York, and Vermont. While Cingular does allow their phones to be used as laptop modems for a lot of additional money per month, Verizon lets me do it with no additional charges on my $40/month voice plan. And Verizon's network is 3-20 times faster than Cingular's in real-world use, depending on whether I'm in or near a big city. The iPhone won't even support Cingular's high-speed data network.

The Cingular requirement alone is a deal-killer for many. And it looks like the iPhone is a Cingular exclusive for at least 2 years.


The low-capacity 4 GB model is $500. With a 2-year Cingular contract.

One button

A phone without buttons? Sounds cool, except we use buttons a lot while interacting with phones, such as... when dialing a number.

An on-screen keyboard has two significant problems:

  1. There's no tactile feedback, which dramatically slows typists.
  2. You have to look at the buttons to press them, which makes driving use extremely unsafe (which you may interpret as a good thing), prevents in-pocket or against-ear adjustments, and slows regular use.
They don't necessarily need a complete physical QWERTY keyboard, like many "smartphones" have, but it would be a huge improvement to have a few hardware buttons for the most common functions such as Send/End, volume adjustments, and ring-mode changes (audible, vibrate, silent).

Too much?

I don't want an expensive, large-screen video iPod with terrible battery life - few people do. I don't want 3D animation of my mostly-missing album art in iTunes, I don't want a touch-screen phone with no buttons, I don't want to switch to Cingular, and I don't want to spend $100 per month on a voice-and-data plan.

I want a basic phone with a nice interface. That's it. Make a good version of the modern slim candybar phone.

What I really want is an iPhone nano, and I think Apple will eventually make one. Like the original $399 5 GB iPod, models and capacities will increase as price decreases, although the iPhone's required hardware (huge high-resolution screen, touch panel, advanced CPU, video accelerator) will require some feature cuts if they intend to make a lower-end model.

But the market for a basic, well-designed $149 phone is huge, and Apple won't ignore it forever. Once an iPhone fills that gap, I'll start caring.