The iPhone: Top 5 ‘Hits’ and ‘Misses’.

There have been a lot of reasons explaining why the iPhone will be a hit or a miss. I wouldn’t try to count how many unique reasons have been postulated for the success or failure of the device, but the ones listed below are what I consider the ‘Top 5’ for each.

The lists are mine, and based solely on my own memory of what seems to be a common consensus of analyst and pundit comments in all the articles I’ve read.

I present each list in no particular order (i.e., I made no attempt to rank them). These just seem to be the five I see most often as reasons for success or failure. Listed with each are my comments.

The Misses:

  • Touchscreen keyboard: There’s been some real garbage written about this. The only legitimate complaint I’ve seen is the lack of touch feedback (and therefore ability to touch-type) on the device. However, I don’t think the majority of people touch-type on their keyboards (or keypads, since most people don’t have a phone with a keyboard). For those who do, there will be a learning curve, and they may or may not be willing to go through it. I can see some people canning the phone because they can’t get the hang of it. But I also see a lot of people making it good. Ultimately, while there will almost certainly be grumbling about the keyboard, I don’t see it being a show-stopper. Also, keep in mind Apple could do things to improve it if necessary. Two I can think of is to support it in landscape mode and offer sound feedback when an item is touched. If the perception is that the keyboard is a problem after the iPhone has been available for a week, Apple should move to improve it rapidly.
  • Price: I’ve already commented on this elsewhere. Bottom line is that over the course of a two-year contract (which is expensive for any smartphone) the iPhone price difference is not very big.
  • Slower EDGE network: Every time this is brought up it fails to mention that 3G is not particularly fast. Yes, it’s much faster than EDGE, but it’s slower than what we’ve got at home (unless we’re dial-up, in which case EDGE will appear fast anyway). Further, when EDGE is brought up, the WiFi capability of the device is not usually mentioned. This is faster than EDGE or 3G. You have to be near a WiFi hotspot, but who is going to the jungle with this thing? Just as people who bought SUVs as they rose in popularity may have talked about “off-roading,” but never took it off the road, the fact is the iPhone is going to be used in Starbuck’s a lot more often than the jungle.
  • Availability on AT&T only: This one is hard to judge. Each phone company has its detractors. If you live in an area of weak AT&T coverage I wouldn’t even consider the iPhone. Otherwise, I would. If you think AT&T sucks, they probably do, but so does Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, etc. In the US especially, phone carriers have way too much power, and it shows. If I gotta have one that sucks, you can bet I’ll get the one that has the phone I want.
  • Lack of business email for smartphone use: The battle with IT has begun! The iPhone supports IMAP email, so does MS Exchange (though it’s usually not implemented). IT people feel other email is not as secure as Exchange (debatable), and on and on. I can’t answer this question, but I do know that if you want it for business mail, and your IT group tells you to jump in the lake, well, then, I guess you’re not getting an iPhone.

The Hits:

  • Building on iPod success: According to Apple, it’s the best iPod they’ve ever made. Wide screen, beautiful, touch control, etc. If you’re one of the 9-10 million people each quarter that buy an iPod, that feature alone is worth at least $200 (probably more) of the iPhone’s asking price. Anyone looking to replace their iPod (not just their cell phone) is likely a potential customer here.
  • Ease of use: Apple is legendary at this, and has left little doubt in the iPhone. The ads are all about the interface, and the guided tour shows it as well. I already know how to take a call when I’m on another, and also how to create a three-way call. Most phones can do this, but I don’t know how to on my current phone, and I’m smart enough to know most people don’t know how to on their phones either.
  • “Desktop class” web browsing: Sure, other phones will “do” the web. But Apple makes it clear they’re several steps ahead of other phones in this regard. Import your existing bookmarks, browse multiple pages at once, fully open and standards-compliant web browser. Look, the fact that it’s a smaller screen than your desktop means this will not be the same as being at your desk — let’s have some realistic expectations here. But clearly as a total package it leapfrogs anything out there now.
  • Touchscreen interface: The ‘wow’ factor. Provides the ability to have such a huge screen (for a portable device), and a big contributor to its ease of use. In addition, a contributer to its upgradability (since the user interface is all software-based). No stylus, no buttons with special color coding because they serve different purposes for the app you’re in. Just the controls you need when you need them. The simplicity of this cannot be overestimated.
  • Integration with iTunes: Syncing and communicating your phone with your PC is sometimes a frustrating mess (if you can do it at all). Lots of people just enter contacts directly into their phone; it may or may not match what they have on their desktop. Further, the only pictures they have have may be those they took with the phone itself, getting pictures from your PC can be difficult, if even allowed. Same with music, bookmarks, etc. Yet with iTunes this is all a no-brainer. And the real beauty of this is that many (most?) potential iPhone customer already know this, since they use iTunes and maybe even an iPod as well. There’s a lot to be said for getting a cool device with lots of potential and knowing you’ll be able to transfer stuff from your PC to it that will fulfill that potential.

So what’s my prediction on the iPhone? It should be obvious from my comments that I think it will be successful. I’m just not convinced the reasons given as ‘misses’ will effect most users, or even be an issue at all. They seem like so much nit-picking to me, and couldn’t you just as easily take any other phone and tear it to shreds in a similar manner? I think so. Though compromises exist, I believe the iPhone has the fewest for its given features than any other phone out there.

Oddly, the single biggest potential for failure I see is one not usually mentioned. It does three things at once. Lots of people might think it only does one or two of those “best,” and therefore want another device for the third. Once you take away its ability to do all three, and get a user thinking he needs to carry a couple of devices anyway, then the world opens up to all competitors. If most people think the iPhone is the best at one of its functions and very good at the other two, then I think it rolls. However, if it’s perceived to be not so good at even one of its functions, that’s where trouble could start. If such a perception seems to form within the first couple weeks, I’d suggest Apple quickly act to correct it before its too late. If the perception is left to linger for a couple of months, it may be too late to correct at all.

I predict Apple sells anywhere from 10 (yes, just 10) to 45 million of them in 2007. In other words, I’m staying out of the prediction game.

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