Critics already dialing in with iPhone complaints

VANCOUVER -- So, you thought you wanted an iPhone. So attractive, so neat, so thin, so easy to use, so darned iPod-like.

It sings, it dances, it gathers e-mail, it sends messages, it makes phone calls. And it's aimed at soccer moms, a largely untapped market for smart phones.

Well, we're here to tell you that that's so last week.

Sure, when Apple CEO Steve Jobs gave a demo of the iPhone at Macworld expo Jan. 9, there was an almost universal outpouring -- at least in the mainstream media -- of unfettered gush.

In what Newsweek described as "Web-exclusive commentary," the word was that "Apple's relentless focus on simplicity, efficiency, utility and fun makes the iPhone seem a different species than its competitors, something more personal, more approachable and ultimately, more desirable than anything else out there."

Yes, but ...

Within a few hours, the undercurrent of mumblings of disappointment and betrayal had begun, initially from the blogs, and then picked up elsewhere.

Among the complaints:

* Instead of being available to use on any network -- as pre-announcement rumour mongers had hoped - the iPhone was tied in the U.S. to a two-year contract with Cingular. Special efforts have been made to make sure that the phones can't be unlocked.

(A small aside here: The only company in Canada that has a GSM network, which is what the iPhone uses, is Rogers. And all they'll say is that they don't comment on unannounced products. But at the same time -- wink, wink, nudge, nudge -- they do tend to mention that exclusive GSM thing.)

* Apple will control what you can have on your iPhone. There will be no outside applications allowed, at least initially. And while Jobs and company may eventually allow developers to come up with apps for the iPhone, they -- and Cingular -- will have approval over what will make it on-board.


As Steve Jobs told Newsweek:

"You don't want your phone to be an open platform ... you need it to work when you need it to work. Cingular doesn't want to see their West Coast Network go down because some application messed up."

* The iPhone's music-playing functions are crippled by what Apple calls FairPlay, so that if you pay for and download songs from the iTunes store you can only use them on the iPhone and iPod (unless you're willing to make a huge effort to do otherwise). Why anyone would expect this to be different for the iPhone nobody has quite explained.

* The non-tactile keyboard will make it difficult for people to use because you need a feel element to be able to type accurately. Some commentators have gone so far as to say that the iPhone's setup will effectively make it impossible to use by the visually impaired.

* The brand name iPhone, at least in the U.S., is owned by Cisco, which has filed suit to this effect.

* The cost of building the most expensive iPhone (to be sold for $599 US) has been estimated by tech analysts iSuppli to be just $280. That means that Apple, which won't allow for discounting by wireless firms, should make a big profit on the sale of each phone.

And so on.

Of course, some of this -- if you're looking for a conspiracy theory -- might have to do with the fact that the iPhone is viewed as a major threat to both wireless providers and other phone manufacturers.

Yet the largely fiercely independent bloggers seem highly unlikely to have been influenced by this.

The general tenor of the blogging seems to be one of disappointment - mainly at the missed opportunities to free up wireless phones from the grasp of the network operators, who Jobs once described as "orifices," but has since learned he has to appease (okay, get along with) to get his iPhone readily into the hands of the public.

Nobody can really tell whether any of this negativity -- largely confined to bloggers talking to one another in what has often been described as the echo chamber of the Net -- will have any effect on wide consumer acceptance of the iPhone.

Certainly not many soccer Moms are readers of tech blogs.

According to press accounts, at the Apple conference call with financial analysts on Wednesday, following record quarterly earnings and profit, little else was talked about but the iPhone, with Apple officials sticking to the company line that they just announced the product and it's too soon to tell how it will do.

Since its announcement, Apple's shares went up by as much as 10 per cent -- which would tend to indicate that perhaps not everyone is worried by the recent outburst of negativity.

Vancouver Sun

SIDEBAR: Frequently asked iPhone questions

* Why would I want it?

To begin with, it looks great, and it's thin (11.6 millimeters) and its 3.5-inch display can switch from vertical to horizontal orientation as you change the way you're looking at the device. Plus, of course, there's the Apple iPod cachet and, well, it looks good, and if you look good, as Billy Crystal (chanelling Fernando Lamas) used to say, you don't have to feel good -- even though, by the few accounts we have of people touching the new device, the iPhone has excellent hand feel, too.

And, in case you didn't realize, it plays music just like an iPod, with a four-gigabyte model (at $499 US) and one that holds eight gigs of music ($599).

* Okay, so it's song-filled and attractive, but what's unusual about i? Lots of phones these days let you play music. And I already have an iPod.

First of all, the iPhone has no keyboard and has no eye-boggling plethora of buttons. There's just a lonely home button on the front and a few buttons on the side. You make your way around by screen-based icons and buttons. Also, your finger substitutes for a stylus and (although no one but Mac fanboys will care about this) it operates on an as yet undetermined variant of the OS X operating system.

* No buttons? How do I make a call on the iPhone?

You click on the Home button. A main window at the bottom left pops up and you give it a tap. You can then either type a number on the virtual keyboard or turn to your list of contacts, recent calls or favourites and choose a number, which is what most of us will do.

* You say there are buttons on the side, what do they do?

There is a pair of volume controls, and a ringer switch. On the top are the audio connectors and a sleep-wake toggle button.

* There has to be more than that? What else does it do?

You can use it for e-mail, for SMS messaging, as a PDA, head out on to the web (using a version of Apple's Safari browser) and, oh yeah, Google's search and Google Maps are both integrated.

* If I use it for e-mail and sending messages, then I'll have to be able to type. And that seems like it could be a struggle on a phone with no physical keypad.

A lot of people do find it harder to type without finger feel, but Apple says it has error correction built in to the iPhone, so that mistakes will be corrected automatically. And when you press down on a key, it enlarges, which will help hunt-and-peck typists at least.

* All right. Does it have a camera?

Natch. Two megapixels. And the phone has photo-management software included.

* Can I put my own applications on the phone?

No. However, Apple might allow developers to come up with new apps, but the company would have final approval over what could be loaded on the phone. This has annoyed a lot of Apple buffs, who want the phone to be wide open to customization.

* So, where can I get one?

Well, you can't. Not yet. It's coming out in June in the U.S., but there is no word yet on a Canadian carrier. However, here there are only two options -- Rogers Wireless and Fido (also owned by Rogers) -- because they operate on a GSM network, which is what the iPhone, at least initially, is designed to do. And Rogers is keeping its corporate lips firmly sealed as to the possibilities.

Vancouver Sun

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