The iPhone makes a splashy debut

19 Jan

January 19, 2007

By Geoff Meeker

Apple launched its newest product last week, the iPhone, amid the usual hype. It’s a cool device for sure, but this wave of publicity is being baffled by a rising tide of dissatisfaction about the planned obsolescence of this and other Apple products.

First, the product itself. The iPhone contains a cellular phone, iPod mp3 player, video player, Internet browser, calendar, and camera, which in themselves are not unusual. You can find all of these features on competing handheld systems.

What sets the iPhone apart is the user friendliness we’ve come to expect from Apple… along with that great intangible, the ‘cool’ factor.

In my last column, I pointed out that the new Motorola Q handheld had problems with its user interface. The way that you switch between applications – and then use those – is complicated and counter-intuitive. I can tell just by looking at the iPhone that it is user friendly. Instead of using arrow keys or a tiny joystick to navigate and sub-navigate, the iPhone has a touch screen with all functions clearly displayed. You just touch and go.

Apple’s claim that the phone is “revolutionary” may be overblown, but it does have some great features. To call someone, you scroll through a list and touch the name. There’s also a hold and conference call function that also works with a single touch of the finger. But what’s truly new is Visual Voicemail, which enables you to scroll through messages and go directly to the ones you need to hear, a major breakthrough for those who must wade through long, rambling thickets of voice messages.

The web browsing capability looks quite impressive, downloading pages in their full resolution and then displaying them on a 3.5 inch screen that appears automatically if you orient the unit on its side.  You can scroll through and even zoom in on web pages by touching the display with your finger. The email is also “rich HTML” allowing you to see photos and graphics right in the email window.

The iPod offers a dandy new feature called Cover Flow, which allows you to finger-flip through album cover animations of stored music. It can also play videos, movies and TV shows, a diversion made tolerable by the 3.5 inch screen. The wi-fi capability allows you to sync the iPhone’s music library with the iTunes on your home computer, as well as other data transfer tasks.

Apple launched the iPhone in the face of a rising swell of criticism about the iPod.  There were two media reports recently, one on CBC Radio On The Go (about battery failure problems) and the other on The Current, on the national CBC Radio network (bemoaning the planned obsolescence of iPod).

I called Jeremy Rose of Music City, the province’s only official Mac dealer, to ask what happens if my $500 iPod Photo gives out. The news was not good.

“We don’t fix them,” he said. “No one does. If an iPod breaks, they give you a new one if it’s under warranty. If it is not under warranty, then you buy a new one… It’s meant to be a disposable piece of technology, as are all mp3 players.”

Rose added that the iPod battery, when it wears out, can be replaced, though not locally. You have to ship it back to Apple. The price, as near as I can tell, is $59 USD for the replacement plus $39.95 CDN for shipping. Not cheap. And you don’t get the same unit back – Apple will replace it with a new or refurbished item.

There is room for debate about the disposability of a product that costs anywhere from $200 to $500. However, iPods are completely solid state – just a circuit board and hard drive – so if something breaks, the unit itself is kaput. But I do have a problem with a battery that can’t be replaced by the consumer (as with cell phones or most other mp3 players) because it’s no secret that they do wear out.

According to early reports on the Internet, the new iPhone will not have a replaceable battery either. The product will not be available commercially until June, so perhaps Apple will listen to its customers and correct this mistake before the start of mass production.

Useful links:

http://www.apple.com/iphone

http://www.ipodbatteryfaq.com/

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