June 21, 2007 -- With just days until the iPhone debuts, frenzy over this year's most widely buzzed about gadget has reached fever pitch.
The hype, which includes a near constant barrage of commercials displaying the phone's "wow" factors — an iPod-cum-phone with multimedia capabilities and the never-before-seen ability to connect to Wi-Fi hot spots -- can be hard to resist. Add to that Apple's brilliant branding and the iPhone's appearance (let's be honest; it's just cute) and at first blush, it seems like a no-brainer: Apple could very well have another iPod on its hands.
But some critics believe that the "early adopters" who wait anxiously in line next week outside Apple and AT&T stores — crowds are expected to be so large that shopping centers are beefing up security in anticipation of mobs and muggings similar to those that greeted the recent launch of Sony's PlayStation 3 — could be in for a nasty surprise.
According to industry analysts, some of the drawbacks are the lack of built-in GPS, which is already widely available in many cell phones, a lack of media support from Flash and concern that the AT&T cellular network isn't fast enough to handle the iPhone's high-end features.
Still, Apple has tried to address a few of the criticisms that have been lobbed at the mysterious gadget that has only been viewed on commercials. (The control and distribution of the product is so tightly controlled, only a few industry insiders have held the phones in their hands.)
This week, Apple announced that the phone would have a longer battery life than was previously believed. Now, it will have up to eight hours of talk time, six hours of Internet use, seven hours of video playback or 24 hours of audio playback.
Analyst: Trading One Problem for Another
The phone will also feature a glass touch screen, instead of a plastic one. Robert Enderle, the principal analyst at Enderle Group, believes this move, intended as an improvement, could be a mistake.
"They did correct one of the problems, but they may have created another one in the process," he said. "Now we have glass screen with a metal case." Because metal doesn't absorb shock, Enderle contends, anyone who drops their precious iPhone will end up with a broken screen and a ruined piece of equipment.
"This is a pretty slick phone," he said. "I think dropping it is likely."
But, according to Enderle, design isn't the iPhone's only problem. He says that he believes the company could be opening itself up to class actions.
"A lot of kids are going to get this phone. Kids do a lot of ['blind'] texting on their phones" without looking at the screen, sometimes while they're driving, Enderle said. "With a touch screen phone, you have to look at the screen."
Enderle believes it's possible that teenagers could get into accidents while using the phone and, rightly or wrongly, many parents could end up blaming the manufacturer.
"One of these children is going to end up in someone's trunk," he said. "Often it's the vendor that's held accountable."
Furthermore, iPhones commercials, which demonstrate a user going from watching a movie to tapping into the Internet to making a phone call in a matter of seconds, will open Apple up to claims of false advertising, Enderle said.
Although the phone can connect to the Internet in Wi-Fi hot spots, Enderle said that a cellular network won't be able to support the speed depicted in the TV spots.
"The data experience is going to be very slow. If you're on a cellular network, [using the Internet] is going to be very slow," he said, adding a typical user's experience is "not going to match the experience shown on TV."
Touch Screen Troubles
Innovative as it may seem, criticism of the touch screen is already beginning to bubble. A video is circulating on YouTube that presents a current iPhone commercial. In the YouTube version, whenever a finger passes over the ad, it leaves a smudged fingerprint behind.
Furthermore, there is the iPhone's keyboard, which will leave texting diehards and worker bees who use their phones for e-mail without the tactile touch of the keys to which they are accustomed.
"The big question, of course, is how usable the keyboard will be," NPD analyst Ross Rubin pointed out. Because the phone is touch screen, there will only be a Qwerty keyboard when needed on the screen. "It may well vary depending on the individual. For some folks it may be great. … Some folks may prefer the individual keyboard."
Apple also announced last week that it won't allow third-party developers to create software for the phone unless it is Web-based, which could leave customers with even less capabilities than they might have with a smart phone like the BlackBerry, Rubin pointed out.
'Most Anticipated Phone Since Alexander Graham Bell's'
Michael Gartenburg, the vice president and research director and Jupiter Research, calls the iPhone backlash typical.
"There's a saying in this business: You can always spot the pioneers, because they're the ones one with the arrows in their backs," Gartenburg said. "This is the most anticipated phone since Alexander Graham Bell's."
Technical bugs and complaints are a part of every new technology, according to Gartenburg, and the longer you wait the better the technology and the price will be — but don't expect deep iPhone discounts any time soon.
"The price won't come down not any time in the near future," he said. "Between now and the holidays, you'll have a hard time finding one at any price."
Like the iPod, which spawned a family of products from low-end to high-end with different capabilities (witness the iPod mini, the Nano and the Shuffle), the iPhone will spawn different versions, he said, but not immediately.
For all of its criticisms, Paul Saffo, Silicon Valley technology forecaster and lover of new gadgetry, said whatever problems the iPhone has, people who camp out in front of Apple stores Friday won't care.
"Phones are not just function, they're fashion," Saffo said. In addition to the interface, "a lot of the anticipation about the iPhone is that it's going to be the coolest fashion accessory of the season."
Still, Saffo has questions about the battery life and, for someone who travels a lot internationally, the size of the phone and its compatibility with international networks.
The predictions for iPhone aren't all bad, however. Despite his criticisms, Enderle believes that Apple does have a hit on its hands, but that the average consumer shouldn't be in line next Friday; Enderle said that he has heard next generation iPhones will be out by October and could deliver a better product at a cheaper price.
"You don't need to be the first one on the block to get these phones. Sit for a minute," he said. "Eventually I think Apple's got a winner here. It may take two or three versions to work out the bugs."