Article by the GadgetNutz Staff: Devin Balentina, Kermit Woodall and others)
The announcement of Apple’s new iPhone was heralded with the massive levels of hype that have often accompanied new product announcements from Apple. The iPhone extravaganza was bigger than most and quickly followed by countless articles in the press, most of them glowing over the ‘tiny wonder’ In fact, most of these articles were little more than a rehashing of Apple’s own press releases.
Now that we’ve had bit of time to look behind the smoke and mirrors, we believe the iPhone will nether be as revolutionary nor as useful as Apple would want us to believe. As a Symbian S60 3rd (aka: S60) edition user I started wondering how this thing really would stack up against the likes of the soon-to-be released Nokia N95 and N93i or even the currently available N91 8 GB or 4 GB and N93. I read an article over at www.symbian-freak.com comparing the iPhone to Nokia’s offerings that really got me thinking. I came to the conclusion that Apple’s iPhone is their attempt at putting together a phone, with some rather dated specs (and in many cases even missing a few key features) in what is little more than a nice and shiny package.
Coming from something like a Motorola RAZR it might look impressive, but owners of for example the now out-of-date N70 will not find much to talk, users of current handsets like the N73 and N93 will find this a joke. Most of these features have been standard for more than a year on the Nseries and since than they have moved on. I just don’t see what all the fuss is about, read on to find out why.
First of all I must admit this thing does look good with that spare Apple design and that huge 3.5′ screen, but it’s too big. As a Nokia N93 user I heard many people commenting on how big the N93 is, well, the iPhone is even bigger — being almost the size of a PSP, though it’s considerably thinner. That wonderful screen might be big and have a nice resolution, but just imagine the fun of having to wipe that fingerprint and earwax magnet clean all day. Besides, Apple should know better having learned from the scratched iPod cases. Having a huge 3.5′ screen exposed like that will surely increase the chances of ending up with a broken or scratched screen. They will probably sell matching cases or other accessories to protect the thing, but this will only add more to the size.
There are some interesting specs in the iPhone. It has a proximity sensor to turn off the screen when it’s close to your face, a sensor to detect vertical or horizontal orientation, a 2 megapixel camera, 4GB or 8 GB of storage, Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR and A2DP, WiFi that automatically engages when in range, and quad-band GSM with EDGE support. It runs ‘OS X’ with support for Widgets, Google Maps, and Safari, and iTunes. A partnership with Yahoo will allow all iPhone customers to hook up with free push IMAP email It also houses a 3.5-inch 480×320 touchscreen display with multi-touch support. Looking at these specs I honestly don’t see anything new or revolutionary enough to justify all the media attention!
The use of a proximity sensor is also interesting and is not found on any of the Symbian phones. While the S60 phones don’t have this, they do have a light sensor that adjusts both the keypad and screen back light. Outside of a Wii Remote or a Sony SixAxis controller, there are no devices I’m aware of that use an orientation sensor. However these are minor features quite specific to the iPhone’s overall design.
I suspect there are going to be those who love it and those who hate it. Many mobile phone users are very used to being able to dial on their phones using dedicated keys that contain tactile references making it possible to dial without looking at the keypad. A purely touchscreen approach, while popular on the Starship Enterprise’s consoles, lacks any tactile feedback. Even worse, Apple also seems to lack confidence in it’s own touchscreen and only designed for finger input. No stylus input is going to mean users are forced to use touchscreen keyboards, which are far slower. Why wouldn’t Apple include handwriting recognition from it’s own Newton platform?
Somewhat surprising is the lack of integration with Outlook, Exchange and other standard Microsoft products. Absolutely surprising is a lack of integration with the iTunes store. In spite of having iPod-like/iTunes music playing built into the iPhone, it can’t even download wirelessly from Apple’s own iTunes music store. Also astonishing is that it cannot wirelessly sync with your desktop, requiring a wired connection like any basic mobile phone.
The fact of having 4 or 8 GB of storage seems new to many when in fact smartphones like the Nokia N91 has been out for some time now sporting the same 4GB, while the newly released N91 8GB is now equal in storage to the higher-priced iPhone model. Both versions of the N91 are available now while the iPhone will bring this ‘new’ feature in June. While the iPhone does come in 4 or 8 GB versions, there is no possibility to add more storage through the use of memory cards. This is a huge mistake in today’s smartphone market. Today’s 8 GB of storage will likely seem modest when 16 GB or 32 GB SD cards are commonly available by the time the iPhone is, itself, available.
Camera phones are all the rage right now, while the iPhone does come with a 2 megapixel camera, this is the same resolution of the good old N70 that has been out for more than a year now. Current S60 phones like the N93, N93i, and N73 all sport 3.3 megapixels while the N95 will have a 5-megapixel camera. Does the iPhone have optical zoom like the N93? Nope. What about Autofocus or Carl Zeiss optics? Try again. What about a second camera for video calling or making self-portraits like many Symbian S60 phones? Not going to find it on the iPhone. The N93/N93i and the N95 have good quality 640×480 video, does the iPhone have this? Of course not. By the time it gets out in June it will basically be dinosaur in the camera department. Some people might argue that they already have a digital camera, but the fact is that for the hefty $499 or $599 price you would expect decent specs, especially since the similarly priced Nseries do have more advanced cameras.
Far from being a groundbreaking device, the iPhone is actually not very forward looking and is lacking the latest HSDPA support. Not even current EVDO, 3G or WCDMA are supported. Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR and A2DP and WiFi will all be standard fare on the N95, while also adding a built-in GPS. The iPhone does have Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR, A2DP and WiFi, but it lacks a GPS and there is no possibility to add one. While other smartphones, aside from the N95, lack a built-in GPS, you do have the possibility of adding third-party solutions like TomTom or Route66. Less common connectivity options like TV-out and UPnP, all standard on the N93/N95 are also lacking on the iPhone.
Look Ma, no OS X!
One of the most talked about features was the fact that the iPhone supposedly was running OS X in one way or another. Articles from Slashdot and other publications show that the iPhone seems to be running on a Samsung provided ARM core processor, this means it’s not running on an Intel (or PPC) core. This means the iPhone is not running OS X in any meaningful way. The article states: ‘Darwin, the BSD based operating system that underlies what Apple has previously been calling OS X, does not run on ARM processors. The Darwin / Apple Public Source licensing agreement says the source would have to be made available if it is modified and sold. A Cingular rep has said the iPhone version of the OS source will not be made available. It will be closed, like the iPod OS and not like Darwin. So if it ain’t Darwin, it ain’t OS X (in any meaningful way). An InfoWorld article on an FBR Research report breaks down iPhone component providers and lists Samsung as the chip maker for the main application / video CPU.’
Basically it has a proprietary OS, perhaps it’s based from OS X, but the only thing that is certain is that they made to look like OS X. The same thing can be done on Symbian S60 through the use of Themes that makes it look like Vista, XP or even OS X. Hopefully there are at least strong, underlying, programming similarities. Oh wait, that won’t matter since it’s not an open platform.
Smartphone or Not?
According to Steve Jobs, the iPhone will prohibit users from installing their own applications Steve Jobs claims this prohibition has been put in place to keep errant applications from taking down the Cingular network However the facts tend to dismiss Job’s claimed concerns This because Cingular has long sold Palm Treos and Windows Mobile handsets, all of which allow user installable applications I’m not aware of a single instance of a user installed smartphone application having harmed a host network.
Since Cingular seems to have few issues with allowing users to run their own applications on their network, the only reasonable conclusion one can draw is Apple themselves are enforcing this probation on user installable applications.
Unfortunately for apple, the moniker of smartphone is inexorably tied to an ability to install third party applications As with any phone that prevents third party applications, so goes the moniker of smartphone The iPhone isn’t a smartphone, and won’t be until it is opened to developers.
It’s this huge library of third party apps that makes smartphones special and customizable. I’m sure Apple will add functionality through their own programs, but this isn’t the same level of customization, and you will have to rely on Apple. Totally.
All of these wonderful apps included with iPhone can be installed on my N93. The built-in Symbian S60 3rd edition browser is also based on the Safari browser, there is this wonderful app called Widsets that also gives you widget-like functionality. Google Maps can also be downloaded while the N93 can also double as a mp3/video-player.
Just the other day I was browsing a S60 freeware thread, where I found: a bible reader, calculator app, dictionary, weather app, a program called Microsky (which allows you to view the current sky with planets, stars and other points of interest in the night sky), and a Gnutella and Bittorrent client. This quick look shows the variety in apps available for S60, and most importantly, these are freeware. While the iPhone does have Google maps, there is no built-in GPS, so you will need a constant data connection to use this, the N95 will do this through the use of the built-in GPS This excludes the growing market of social applications, which allow you to connect up with nearby friends and other features made possible by an integrated GPS.
What’s worse is that in the business world there are literally uncounted numbers (and I would guess hundreds at the least) of proprietary applications that businesses must install on their workers smartphones for uses specific to their company. Sales tools, job logging and more are very common. But these will be impossible on the iPhone because it’s a closed platform in a world that requires an open platform.
– and the rest
Other features inexplicably missing from the list are; stereo speakers, dedicated music keys, no hardware acceleration for 3D video games (like N95/N93), limited multitasking (sometimes I could be playing a 3D game, listening to a podcast, while downloading a program in the background, while Profimail is downloading my mail, all at once on my N93), PDF or Office support and no Flash Light for flash content
Most importantly in my opinion is the lack of advanced voice dialing. Of course, this would probably require them to outsource this to a company like VoiceSignal whose vSuite product is the best voice dialing solution available today. Apple doesn’t often like to go outside of their company for anything. What a shame.
So if the iPhone is so great why isn’t it including features that are already standard on other mobile platforms?
Luxury? Texting? E-mailing?
For luxury phone users, the iPhone does at first seem a tantalizing purchase But even in the luxury market, form takes a backseat to functionality Many phones have positioned themselves at luxury buyers, yet few of these luxury devices have managed to sell in large numbers.
The standout of the luxury market is of course the Sidekick. The Sidekick succeeded not because of its luxury status, but because it made texting easy It does this with well-designed software and a physical keyboard One cannot understate the importance of a physical keyboard when a primary use of a device is the entry of text and e-mail messages.
The iPhone does not have a physical keyboard Neither does it feature a stylus text recognition system like those on Palm and Windows PDA devices Instead, the iPhone simply shows a keyboard on its flat glass touch-screen and invites users to peck away.
Consider that nearly every PDA on the market has the same sort of flat glass touch-screen as the iPhone Yet when it comes to text entry, not a single leading touch-screen PDA uses the iPhone’s type of on-screen-keyboard as a primary text entry method. The iPhone’s sort of screen-keyboard text entry would have made the designs of leading PDA’s much easier, yet they all choose much more robust text entry systems.
The reasons behind this have long been proven with PDA designs going as far back as Apple’s Newton History has show that a keyboard displayed on a flat glass touch-screen is neither a fast or efficient method for text entry This is because typing on a flat glass screen gives no user feedback and requires complete concentration from the user Given the iPhone’s design, the user will be forced look at the screen while entering each and every character of text This is simply not the case with the Blackberries, Treos, and Sidekicks of the world.
How can we be so assured of these problems with the iPhone’s text entry system even though we’ve never tried the iPhone? We know this because we’ve used this same sort of text entry system many times before Even today one can easily see examples of the problems with these flat glass touch-screen keyboards The venerable Palm OS has always offered the iPhone’s sort of screen-keyboard text entry as a secondary, backup, method of text entry Few people use this feature because it’s simply not as efficient as the stylus or keyboards featured on all Pal devices.
Because the iPhone’s flat glass touch-screen keyboard system has been proven to be a slow and cumbersome method for text entry, we could not recommend any device with the iPhone’s text entry for those who frequently send outgoing texts or e-mails.
Business and Corporate Uses?
Business users of late have required their devices have connectivity with Microsoft’s Exchange e-mail network Exchange connectivity is feature that is striking in its absence from the iPhone. Perhaps this is a feature Apple is working on If they hope to have any intrusion into the business market, it will be a requirement.
Over the past few years, corporate users have become quite enamored with the instant e-mail and the physical qwerty-ish keyboards of their Treo’s and BlackBerries We believe that very few of these users are likely to abandon these physical keyboards for the iPhone’s featureless, flat screen As detailed above, we find the system of glancing and pecking on flat-glass screens to be cumbersome and slow Because this on-screen keyboard is the only method of text entry for the iPhone, we don’t anticipate many Blackberry or Treo users moving to the iPhone.
Also limiting the iPhone’s appeal to business users is Apple’s curious decision to lock down the system software of the iPhone, thus preventing development or installation of any 3rd party or custom software applications This locking down of the device would seem to rule out the iPhone as an upgrade path for users who currently store medical reference texts, databases or custom applications on their existing PDA’s, Treos, Symbian, or Windows Mobile devices.
Seemingly driving a stake through any corporate adoption of the iPhone is its complete lack of a removable battery A removable and replaceable battery is not a major problem for non-essential entertainment devices like iPods But when a device is the primary communication system for a business user, replaceable batteries are a mandatory feature.
There are few business travelers who haven’t been stuck in an airport for hours on end The iPhone’s inability to exchange for a fresh battery and limited 5-hour life would severely reduce the productivity of many business users.
Apple has a long history of designing products for business users Their laptops have long featured user replaceable batteries Business users demand replaceable batteries in their products We see Apple’s decision to build in the iPhone’s battery as a firm indication that Apple had no plans or hopes of this initial iPhone having any significant intrusion into the business and corporate market Quite simply, it’s not a business phone and Apple wants it that way.
Obviously Apple feel they have developed a phone with great sales potential We’re not so sure Of course, any Apple product with this much buzz is bound to sell well with the Apple faithful Those Apple’s faithful aside, we are only aware of two significant demographics that purchase phones in the $600 price range These markets are business users and luxury phone buyers For reasons detailed above, we don’t find the iPhone particularly well suited to either of those groups.
We feel the iPhone’s high price and curious lack of features may well make Apple’s initial foray into the phone market a limited success.