iPhone, 3 Weeks and 5 Points Later

As you might already know, the last three weeks have been a whirlwind for me—the iPhone was released a week before my wedding and subsequent honeymoon, so I didn’t have anywhere near as much time as I wanted to share my personal thoughts about the launch, the phone itself, the software and accessories development that we’re currently following, and the big iPhone picture. Having caught up on most of my e-mail and the backlog of products that demanded my attention upon my return from Mexico, now’s a good time to put some of those thoughts in writing for those who might be interested.

(1) The Launch: I’m inclined to call Apple’s handling of the iPhone launch “masterful” in almost all regards: beyond the marketing campaign, it managed to manufacture enough iPhones to just about meet day one demand, then replenished stocks over the next couple of weeks in just enough quantities to maintain the perceptions that the device was popular and a bit of a challenge to find. By July 4th and 5th, we struggled only a little to find two extra units to purchase as surprise “thanks for your help with our wedding!” gifts to our families, but an online order placed for a third unit still isn’t scheduled to be fulfilled until more than three weeks after it was purchased. Anecdotal evidence suggests that early estimates, floated by AT&T, of a million or more first-weekend iPhone activations were very substantially overstated, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear that nearly or exactly a million had been sold by now. That’s great considering that it’s taken Sony eight months to sell a million PlayStation 3s in its home country of Japan at similar price points.

Apple’s only errors with the launch were probably intentional. The company starved and pissed off a lot of developers and journalists who wanted advance access to the iPhone for legitimate reasons, and we heard lots of stories about people who really shouldn’t have been standing in lines having to stand in lines. Additionally, we saw and heard evidence that people were getting paid to wait for other peoples’ iPhones; Dennis spotted a group of migrant workers getting paid off at one Apple Store on launch day, and as much as it’s tempting to say, “great, that’s capitalism!” the whole “let’s form lines” thing just doesn’t feel right on some level. My sincere hope is that Apple can pat itself on the back for having accomplished its aims on this one, and with requisite self-satisfaction in the knowledge that it could repeat itself if it wanted to do so, refrain from trying to turn future product launches into similar circuses. Hype gets old. This time, it got old before it was even over. Next time, people mightn’t be as inclined to go along for the ride.

(2) The iPhone Itself: In total, I’ve had seven iPhones in my personal possession on either a temporary or permanent basis since launch, which when added to the rest of iLounge’s staff brings our cumulative total up to 12, with number 13 currently on its way to Jesse. I’ve also been following external comments from readers regarding their hardware and software experiences, and, of course, doing probably a bit too much testing and note-taking given that I was on my honeymoon. Take these thoughts for whatever you think they’re worth, but realize that they’re grounded in more than a fair bit of actual testing and experience at this stage.

iLounge has prided itself on fairness in our reviews, and having written most of them myself, I can say that even with over a thousand reviews personally under my belt, I think virtually everything’s been given a fair pros-and-cons treatment over the years—there isn’t a review I’d take back and say was hugely wrong. Despite the time pressures involved in the iPhone review’s assembly, and the necessarily swift treatment of many of its features, I still feel comfortable with the opinions and the ultimate B+ rating rendered a few weeks ago. There are some things about iPhone that I’m absolutely loving: the 3.5” video screen, the excellent iPod audio interface, the great-sounding phone calls, and the generally strong web browsing, even over EDGE. If it wasn’t for the device’s storage capacity and battery limitations, I’d replace my iPod with it in a heartbeat.

But those are still very legitimate issues. Between the video, music, and photo content I have here, iPhone just doesn’t have enough space for the stuff I want to carry around. Perhaps because I use it more actively than the typical person, or perhaps because the battery life’s just not enough for my needs, I’m finding that I’m sometimes not making it through a full day without using the charger. As bad as certain old iPod batteries were, that was never an issue for me in the past—unless you’re traveling, it’s hard to play that much music or that much video content in a day. Additionally, as a former SideKick user, I’m still not loving iPhone e-mail as much as I should, I still hate the monthly cap on SMS messages, and the absence of true iChat messaging is really awful. I’ve been trying to get used to Jivetalk, the competent web-based iChat wannabe for iPhone, but Apple really needs to step in and do iPhone messaging right—without the web interface.

Hardware reliability issues continue to concern me, too. After the touchscreen died on one of our iPhones (as noted in the review), and having seen a unit with problematic side controls—plus, knowing that other people have had similar issues—I’m really wondering how long my personal iPhone’s going to keep working, and what happens when it stops. If I’m within the warranty period, it looks like I can go to an Apple Store and get a same-day replacement, but if not, am I going to need to give up my phone for 3 days? The one thing you hear about from companies with three-year warranties is that they do that to give customers “peace of mind.” Right now, I really need some peace of mind, Apple, and even if it’s not going to come in the form of a three-year warranty, there has to be a way to make customers feel comfortable for the two mandatory years of our AT&T contracts, no matter what. I can’t wait for this to happen.

(3) Software: Congratulations to all of the developers who have been working on Web 2.0 applications for iPhone: you’re doing a great job, and the collection of programs continues to grow. Admittedly, the only one I’ve personally found a repeated need for is JiveTalk, but the Flickr (iPhlickr) and games apps are promising. I really hope Apple finds a way to further open the iPhone to third-party programs, because they could be a lot cooler and more powerful than they are now. Few developers apparently have the skills to put together software like JiveTalk, and fewer still the diligence to continue updating the software over and over again to improve performance. We’ll be interested to hear what the turnout is like for the upcoming iPhone Tech Talk sessions—will they draw dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people? The future of iPhone software will be a lot clearer when the sessions have ended.

(4) Accessories: The single biggest disappointment with iPhone is how it interacts with many iPod accessories, especially ones that I happen to have more or less permanently installed in my car. Right now, it doesn’t work in any way with my car’s stereo, despite the presence of two separate and totally different Dock Connector-equipped cables running into the A/V system. These types of issues are the strongest reminders that, despite Apple’s claims to the contrary, iPhone really isn’t the company’s best iPod ever. It has the best screen for video, and the best music navigation interface Apple’s ever put into a pocketable device, but it’s not right to call it an iPod when it doesn’t work seamlessly with really anything previously released, save for iTunes.

(5) The Big Picture: One thing that my brain keeps coming back to again and again is this point: remember what people thought iPhone would be like? If not, take a look at these concept galleries: 1, 2, 3, and 4. Apple outdid so many of the visions people had for the device, which is pretty impressive considering the array of concepts that were suggested, and the more minimalist approach the company could have taken with its features. While I can’t go as far as some people have, and say that I think iPhone is actually “the cell phone of the future,” or a replacement for any of my computers, I do think that its underlying technologies (EDGE aside) and features are a hugely impressive start down the road to amazing portable devices. Issues aside, Apple did a really good job overall with iPhone, and given what we’ve seen with iPods over the past few years, it’s only going to get better over time.