it says “ip-od”

The title of today’s post comes from a recent episode of House M.D., in which John Larroquette guest stars as a man who emerges from a coma after fifteen years or so. Sitting in Dr. House’s car and waiting to be taken for a hogie, he picks up the white plastic music player and says, “Hey, what’s this? It says “Ip-od.”

I am not one of the people who expected Steve Jobs to announce the iPhone yesterday (and I certainly didn’t expect it to actually be called the iPhone). I fully believed that the cellular platform was controlled in such a way—by ruthless corporations bent on squeezing every last nickel from their customers—that Jobs would never be able to reconcile its draconian requirements with his own control-freak nature. Apparently I was extremely wrong. Apparently Cingular signed the contract without even seeing a prototype. Good decision.

I’m not going to waste time going over what you can find out from Apple or a million other sites, but there are a few things I’d like to point out. If you crushed the iPhone’s features into a bullet list, they’d look like this:

  • Combination iPod, cellular phone, calendar [widgets etc], and computer-class web browser, all run by OS X.
  • Full-frontal multi-touch screen controls.
  • 2.0 megapixel camera, accelerometer, proximity sensors, intelligent cellular/Wi-fi connectivity.
  • Form factor very close to the video iPods.

If I hadn’t seen Jobs’s keynote and you described such a device to me, I wouldn’t believe that it actually existed. “Proximity sensors that detect when you bring the phone up to your face” is the kind of sentence that you only read in the most surreal geek fantasies. The iPhone has the same unreal, impossibly well integrated level of technology that you often see in the fanciful predictions of what fifth-graders think the future will bring them by high school. I once predicted a pencil with a built-in digital clock that changed color based on your mood. Apple has aimed considerably higher. To call it “iPod + Phone” is a vast understatement. This thing has just singlehandedly leapfrogged the entire “cellular platform” out of its larval stage. The bar has been raised, and it has a touchscreen.

I’d like to address some potential downsides here. Yes, it costs as much as a Playstation 3, but those economics are true of any technological field. For instance, if I’m planning to spend $500 on a new graphics card, there’s really only one, maybe two cards that I’m actually looking at. The same goes for ultra high-end computers, cars, and even televisions. I contend that for the people who are looking (or willing) to spend that kind of money, the iPhone has just become the one and only option. I’d also wager that the number of people who are looking (or willing) to spend that kind of money just increased tenfold.

Battery life? Jobs didn’t really harp on that point, and it’s easy to see why. I assume the five hour estimate of talk time assumes a continuous five hours of use, not factoring in large swathes of standby time. Still, it’s hard to imagine a device like this having comparable battery time to my RAZR. I think the battery issue could prove to be a real problem.

How costly will the much-vaunted internet capabilities be? Cingular makes its customers pay through the nose for data transfers, and pulling down “real” web pages over a cellular line could get very expensive very quickly. If the internet proves too costly to be used as casually as Jobs demonstrated, it seriously hampers a lot of the iPhone’s appeal, at least for me.

Also, how flexible is iPhone’s OS X? Will people be able to write their own widgets? How much power is Apple/Cingular comfortable letting the users have? Since the iPhone is the first genuine “platform” in this regard, it’ll be interesting to see.

So, on the whole, it’s amazing. It’s the kind of technological pole vaulting that I thought only existed in fantasy. It really does inaugurate a new technological era, at least for those who can afford the cutting edge, and it obviously changes the face of Apple Computer, Inc forever. The whole cellular industry has been put on notice, just as the music player market was put on notice by the iPod. Competition is good, and it’s going to be a very interesting six months.


(No Comments)

Comments are closed.