Want an iPhone? Of course you do. It looks sexy, it's innovative, and--for a while at least--it'll be the ultimate status symbol. But in the fog of iPhone hype, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that the latest Apple sensation will still have its share of disadvantages. We don't have the king of gadgets in our mitts yet, but judging from the information that has already been released, clearly some folks could have problems with the iPhone. So before you dump your current cell phone, consider these issues.
Data that crawls: When AT&T's EDGE network debuted in 2005, it seemed zippy indeed, delivering data at up to 100 kilobits per second. But that was then. Today, with true 3G technologies delivering data at up to several hundred kbps, Apple's decision not to support AT&T's UMTS-HSDPA 3G network seems short-sighted--especially given the iPhone's investment in cool new Web browsing technology that doesn't suffer from the compromises of a mobile browser. In our limited hands-on tests a few months ago, downloading the New York Times' front page via EDGE took quite a few seconds. AT&T has tacitly acknowledged this potential problem by announcing upgrades to its EDGE network in anticipation of the iPhone launch. And of course, the iPhone will support Wi-Fi, which will make Web page downloads much more feasible if you're in range of a hotspot.
Limited third-party apps: Lots of cell phone power users get more value out of the applications they've loaded on their handsets themselves than the often lame or expensive offerings from their carriers. When the iPhone was first announced, third-party apps seemed shut out entirely, a move that prompted one online petition of protest. Now Apple says that developers can create iPhone apps that run in Safari. Only two problems with that: First, those apps may be fairly poky given the iPhone's slower EDGE network connection. Second, many developers seem to hate writing for Safari. As PC World forums member dazeddan said, "As a developer, we have more problems designing around Safari than any other platform. I wish it would just go away."
Where are the keys? The iPhone's software keyboard, with its on-screen key images, may work fine with Steve Jobs's single-finger hunt-and-peck approach, but it could prove problematic for those folks who have honed their thumb-typing skills on BlackBerry units, Treos, Motorola Q handsets, or other PDA phones with physical QWERTY keyboards. Things did not go well for one PC World editor when she tried typing on a prototype iPhone in January; even the best predictive text entry software would have been stymied by the string of incorrect characters. Plus, what happens when the on-screen keyboard covers up the very e-mail text you're trying to respond to?
It costs how much?! You've probably already heard about the iPhone's astronomical price: US$500 for a 4GB model and $600 for 8GB. But you may not have calculated all the other costs associated with buying one. You'll have to make a two-year commitment to AT&T at a per-month cost that starts at $60, recent reports say (though that includes unlimited data access, something AT&T often charges $40 for on smart phones). And unlike with pretty much every other phone in the world, making that commitment doesn't knock down the price, it's just a requirement. Plus, if you're in the midst of a prior two-year commitment with a competing carrier, your cost of iPhone ownership could be further inflated by the early termination penalty you'll pay your current carrier. And finally, AT&T doesn't always receive high marks for its service. You may be okay with the deal now, but how will you feel in a year if the iPhone is no longer the coolest handset on the planet?
Businesspeople need not apply: It's a safe bet that many professionals will want an iPhone. But BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Palm, and Symbian smart phones offer a long list of business-related features that the iPhone apparently won't, at least upon release. For instance, while the iPhone apparently will connect with Exchange servers, it will require some security trade-offs that could make your IT department nervous. There's no word on connecting to Domino servers. And though you can open Word and Excel files on the iPhone, you can't edit them.
More potential drawbacks
Unplugged Web plug-ins: The iPhone's Safari may turn out to be the most desktop-like browser ever to appear on a phone. But it won't offer the full complement of plug-ins, players, and other enhancements that today's sites require. And an iPhone without Java, Windows Media, Real, and Flash Video support will fall short of delivering an uncompromised Web experience. (Even its much-touted YouTube capability won't let you watch the full catalog of YouTube videos, at least initially.)
The battery life question: Apple says that the iPhone's battery will survive up to 8 hours of talk time, up to 250 hours of idle time, up to 6 hours of Internet use, up to 7 hours of video playback, and up to 24 hours of audio playback. And to explain how it came up with these numbers, the company has posted a list of footnotes and disclaimers that rivals the rules you find on a "free trip to Hawaii" sweepstakes form. We won't know the reality until we're holding the iPhone in our trembling, multitouching fingers. Apple's spec page says that the 8 hours of talk time was achieved when "the Wi-Fi feature Ask to Join Networks was turned off." So how disabled was the Wi-Fi when talk time was tested? Apple also doesn't make clear what combination of 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and EDGE was employed to achieve the 7 hours of Internet use. Macs have pretty good power management settings. What will the iPhone offer? Until more is known, be prepared to carry around the phone charger.
Off-limits battery: While we're on the subject of the battery, it's worth noting that, like the original iPod, the iPhone has its battery enclosed in a superslim case among tightly negotiated electronics and behind a top surface of glass--reducing the chances of a DIY battery replacement to next to nil. (Plus, we suspect that attempting a replacement voids the warranty.) So if your battery life dwindles to roughly 6.5 minutes per charge, or the battery malfunctions, you'll have to send your iPhone in for repair.
Finally, a few other issues that probably aren't deal-breakers but are still worth considering:
It's a thief magnet: Everybody wants an iPhone, including people who aren't above stealing yours.
Multismudge screen: You can use all five fingers on the screen at once? Better wash your hands first.
OMG no IM: Inveterate chatters won't be so :) about being limited to SMS.