Is the iPhone 3G really deserving of the nickname Jesusphone?
Sure, the iPhone 3G is a groundbreaking phone. There's a lot to love about it… the amazingly easy-to-use touchscreen interface, amazing video playback, a big, bright, high contrast, high-resolution display that's the best of any smartphone on the market, and a web browser that's as good as any you'd use on a desktop computer. Not to mention Apple's new MobileMe service which will provide over the air syncing of your email, contacts, calendar, tasks and photos with your home or office computer — no plugging in required.
But there are a lot of big disappointments with the iPhone 3G too. Some of them are stubborn commercial decisions Apple has made; others look like oversights, and others are fundamental flaws in the design of the phone itself.
Think I don't know jack? Before you post an angry comment, read through the 10 points and then tell me what you think.
#1 No upgrade to the camera
The camera in the first-gen iPhone was only two megapixels with no flash. "Fair enough," I thought… "it's a first-gen product. They have to leave themselves room to move for the upgrade they'll surely put into the next-generation iPhone." No such luck. The camera in the iPhone 3G is exactly the same as the first-gen one. Still stuck at two megapixels. Still unable to cope in low-light and still no flash. Oh, and there's no video recording capability either, even though this has been found on phones for the last five years or so.
iPhone 3G: 2 megapixel camera, no flash, no video, no optical zoom
Other phones: up to 5 megapixel cameras, optical zoom, lens-based autofocus, flash.
Verdict: Smackdown by other phones.
#2 No Adobe Flash support
Undeniably, the iPhone has the best web browser of any phone on the market. But when you hit a web page with Adobe Flash in it, you'll just get an empty space with a 'missing plugin' icon. Apple says Flash would run too slowly on the iPhone, but in reality, it's probably more to do with Apple wanting to promote its competing web app development technology, Sproutcore.
For a laugh, check out Steve Jobs demonstrating the web browser on the iPhone. When he views The New York Times, up pops the 'missing flash' icon.
iPhone: no Adobe Flash support
Other smartphones: Flash Lite support, or full Flash support on Windows Mobile.(Admittedly Flash support on other phones isn't great either, but then, they're not running a full computer operating system like the iPhone is, where it would be trivially easy to port Flash across to run on it.)
Verdict: Other phones win by a narrow margin.
#3 No instant messaging
Despite the fact that the iPhone comes with unlimited data plans (in the US at least; Australian plans haven't yet been revealed) Apple has hobbled the iPhone's ability to do instant messaging.
Rather than sending instant messages over the internet to friends, the iPhone sends them by SMS. Since Apple has great instant messaging software for Mac called iChat, this is undoubtedly a concession to phone companies. SMS is widely considered to be the most expensive data service in the world, with each message only 165 characters long but charged by phone companies at around 20c per message. Multiplied out, that equates to 1.3 million dollars per gigabyte of SMSes. (By comparison, Aussie mobile network Three offers 1GB of high speed internet usage for $15.)
Oh yeah, and forget about chatting to someone who's sitting at a computer using the iPhone. Heaven forbid you might want to chat to someone using MSN/Windows Live Chat, Google Talk, AIM, ICQ, Facebook or any of the other popular chat protocols.
Hopefully, this ludicrous situation will be plugged by third-party application developers who will develop internet-based chat clients for iPhone. However, Apple has said that it will not allow applications to run in the background on the iPhone; instead, the developers must run an internet-based service, send a message to Apple servers, which will then send a message to the iPhone to alert the user to open the app. Yes, it may save battery life on the iPhone, but no, it's not exactly convenient.
On a Blackberry, the Blackberry Messenger just sits quietly in the background. If your phone is on, so is Blackberry Messenger. It's 100% reliable. It doesn't send messages using a stupid method like SMS. It uses the Blackberry's unlimited internet access. And yes, Blackberries do have good battery life.
iPhone 3G: SMS is the only way to instant message people.
Other smartphones: A large variety of instant messaging software that can send messages using the internet capability of the phone.
Verdict: iPhone is shamed by other phones.
#4 Totally impractical for international travel
The iPhone downloads full emails, attachments and all, when you view them on the iPhone. If someone sends you an email with several megabytes of photos attached, that's how much data has to be downloaded by the iPhone. That's fine if you're in your home country and have an unlimited data plan. But go to another country and see how much it costs you — you can expect to pay up to $20 per megabyte. Your roaming charges will soon be running into hundreds of dollars.
Not to harp on about the Blackberry, but when you roam with one of them, it's quite cheap, because the Blackberry servers downscale images to perfectly fit the size of the Blackberry screen before sending them — a huge saving in data transfer charges, and messages are heavily compressed before transmission, etc. In fact, even heavy Blackberry users may be surprised to learn that they use less than 5MB of data per month.
iPhone 3G: It's the data equivalent of the gas guzzling SUVs that GM suspended production of this week.
Other smartphones: Well, there are certainly other data guzzling phones. But Blackberry is a perfect example of a smartphone that's made for roaming.
Verdict: Blackberry wins
#5 Not compatible with Bluetooth car kits or headphones
Apple has Bluetooth wireless in the iPhone, but it only works with a handful of wireless headsets. Forget talking handsfree on Bluetooth car kits or using the iPhone with stereo Bluetooth headphones. You could expect those sorts of features from the world's leading music player, but not the iP… oh, wait.
Considering Apple wants the world to take the iPhone seriously for its phone capabilities, it's truly incredible that it has hobbled the Bluetooth audio capability so much. Could it be because it wants to make money from car equipment manufacturers who build an iPod dock connector into their car stereos?
Caveat: this comment is based on what we know about pre-release versions of the iPhone 2.0 software. It's possible Apple will have fixed this in the release version of the iPhone 3G.
iPhone 3G: only works with Apple's mono Bluetooth headset and a handful of other companies' similar units. No support for Bluetooth stereo or in-car Bluetooth handsfree.
Other smartphones: many support stereo Bluetooth for streaming to headphones or a stereo, and most models work with Bluetooth car handsfree units (though there are still compatibility glitches between brands, admittedly.)
Verdict: Other phones win
#6 No cut and paste
iPhone 3G: No cut and paste.
Other smartphones: Well, yeah, duh. They have cut and paste.
Verdict: Decisive victory for other phones.
#7 Non user-replaceable battery
It's a sad fact about rechargeable batteries: the first time you recharge them, their maximum capacity degrades. After a few hundred recharges, their capacity is down to something like half their original capacity. Normally, this is annoying, but manageable — you just swap the battery out for a new one, or get a second battery and swap between the two of them until the first battery is toast.
Not so with the iPhone. Its battery is sealed up tightly inside the nearly-impossible-to-pry-open casing (believe me, I've taken the back off an iPhone and that sucker is not meant to come apart… Apple must be replacing the casing of iPhones it services). Apple will then install the battery for you (in the US it costs $US85.95) and post it back to you. Oh, and you can pay them extra $US30 for the privilege of renting another phone from them to use in the meantime.
Not only is this massively inconvenient, it's a cunning attempt by Apple to get people to simply buy a new iPhone when the battery finally dies. People will be asking themselves… "do I pay $105.95 to get my old iPhone battery fixed, or do I pay $199.00 to buy the latest and greatest model of iPhone?" I know which one I'd pick, and I bet that's central to Apple's business plan.
iPhone 3G: Battery sealed inside the case. Costs a hundred bucks and considerable inconvenience to get it replaced.
Other smartphones: Well, yeah, duh. You just unplug the battery and put a new one in.
Verdict: Crushing loss to Apple.
#8 No MMS
So you've snapped a nice photo on your iPhone and you want to send it to a friend? You'd better hope they have email on their phone, because that's the only way you're going to be able to send it to them with the iPhone. For some reason, despite its ridiculous decision to force all instant messaging through SMS, Apple has totally left out MMS (picture/video SMSes) from the iPhone.
iPhone 3G: No MMS support. You will send your photos using the Apple-authorised method, by email.
Other smartphones: Well, yeah, duh. They have MMS.
Verdict: Own-goal by Apple.
#9 No turn-by-turn navigation
Despite building a GPS satellite navigation receiver into the iPhone, Apple has stopped short of offering voiced, turn-by-turn navigation into the device. Yes, you can plot directions from your current position to somewhere else, and you can watch yourself as a little dot on the map, but have you ever tried doing that in a car? I have … on my Blackberry. I nearly crashed.
If you're thinking I'm being a bit overly critical (isn't it a "nice to have" feature than a necessity?) compare Apple to Nokia, which has been offering voiced, 3D, turn-by-turn navigation on its phones for a couple of years now. Having a Nokia N78 saved my bacon recently when I realised I was totally lost and didn't have a street directory with me. I also had a Blackberry with me that has 2D map routing similar to what's on the Blackberry, and it sucked, because it was like reading a map constantly while driving.
iPhone 3G: No voiced, 3D turn-by-turn navigation.
Other smartphones: OK, so it's not a standard feature on all phones. But Nokia, which has over 50% market share in Australia, has been shipping it with its phones for the last couple of years.
Verdict: Nokia wins.
#10 Stunning hypocrisy
At Apple's last presentation on the iPhone (March 6th 2008), Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller ridiculed market leader Blackberry for the complexity of its push email service, pointing out that your messages have to pass through a RIM messaging server and a network operations centre before they're sent out to your phone. Plus you have to pay extra for the service.
With the iPhone 3G, Apple introduces MobileMe, a service that … passes your email through an Apple messaging server before it is sent through to your phone. And it costs $AUD119 per year extra. Spot any similarity with the Blackberry business model?
It seems stunningly hypocritical for Apple's to criticise the technology of the market leader in the US smartphone space, then adopt the same technologies in its own product. On the other hand, I'm glad it has… but I'm flabbergasted at Apple's audacity in working on a service while at the very same moment criticising others for doing it.
iPhone 3G: made by a company dominated by self-serving hypocrites.
Other smartphones: let's be honest... made by companies dominated by self-serving hypocrites.
Verdict: Apple is on even footing with other handset makers. Welcome to the industry!