Friday, May 25, 2007

I'll Pass on the iPhone

I won’t be standing in line to sign up to buy an Iphone on June 20th if this report is accurate.

I marveled at the pretty iPhone that rotated 360 while secured in a lucite case at Mac World this past January. You’d have thought it was the Mona Lisa. I wanted one really badly, and if I could’ve bought one right then and there I would’ve.

But now I’ve had several months to think about it, and I think I’ll pass. At least for a while and maybe forever. I think it’s easy to reckon that people will like this product, but that doesn’t mean it will be a particularly useful product for me.

I haven’t had anything resembling a real job in nearly 5 years, so the phone can have a gazillion features to make your workday more productive, but most of those probably won’t be that interesting to me.

The features that impressed me were not because of the phone, but because of the iPod. Quite simply, from a features point of view, the iPhone will have the best available iPod product. For one, it will be the first iPod with a larger display (roughly 2x the current video iPod display) and secondly, it will be the first iPod with WiFi. To me, that DOES make it a hot gadget, but still not necessarily useful.

I am a huge media enthusiast. I have been experimenting with a lot of video formats both portable and streaming. I have used my Play Station Portable (PSP) remotely and streamed video via wifi over Sony’s Location Free Player. I have streamed all of my media via Orb via wifi to my laptop – it’s very cool. And I have sat in coffee shops in San Francisco on gray days like today and watched hours and hours of Boston Legal on my iPod.

I love the form factor of the iPhone. That it’s a phone, and an iPod, and that size is great. But here’s the thing. Power consumption for cell phones is tricky. My PSP, like my iPod will normally give me many hours (5+) for normal usage. But if I turn on the PSP’s wifi, I don’t get nearly as much battery life. The same is also true with my laptop, I get much better battery life when I am not running Wifi.

And all of that’s fine, even for the iPhone, but the problem is that if I am out watching 24 on my PSP, or Boston Legal on my iPod, if the PSP or iPod battery dies or gets very low I don’t really care. But I do care if the battery on my phone runs out. Quite a lot. To do what I’d really want to do with it, there’s no doubt in my mind it will drain power too much to be useful.

That said, the iPhone comes with 8 gigabytes of storage and I can get a lot of video onto 8 gigs and video playback itself probably isn’t as likely to drain the battery as wifi usage. But to buy this product without a phone service plan (and I really wouldn’t want the phone) is probably going to be ~$600 and I don’t really see paying $600 for the first release of a product I’m likely to use less than 18 months, because within that time there will be both an improved iPhone and an improved iPod (that I’m guessing will come with the bigger screen, the wifi, but without the phone…but it will only cost around ~$350. Just a guess, but that’s the price for the current high end iPod, and I don’t think that’s likely to change much anytime soon.

In the meanwhile I wish folks would stop focusing on building better mousetraps and that someone would build better batteries!

Battery life is really the key to a multi-featured product like the iPhone, because actually having the phone available is really important to people. If the first iPhone will allow me to stream video even 30 minutes a day over wifi, use my phone as I normally would and only charge my phone once a day as I do now, they’ve done a great job.

My expectation is that they didn’t do that great of a job. Not because they didn’t try like hell, but because of limitations of battery technology and the way cell phones and wifi consume power. We’ll know in a month.

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