iPhone 3G: Apple vs the World

Noah Kravitz
 from Oakland, CA
Published: June 10, 2008

Apple may have disappointed some phone geeks by leaving a few badly wanted features off of the new iPhone 3G, but in typical Apple fashion they're looking past the specific desires of a few in order to set their sights squarely on luring more of the masses into the Cult of iPhone.  Could Apple have added MMS messaging, stereo Bluetooth support, and a decent camera (with flash) to the new iPhone's redesign without sacrificing the grander scheme surrounding the App Store, enterprise support, and Mobile Me?  Sure.  But they didn't.  So let's look at what they did do:

The App Store is the big deal here.  Apple's got New York Times tech writer David Pogue in its back pocket, and was all too happy to let Pogue (a great video blogger, by the way) get Apple's main message across for them yesterday: "You're witnessing the birth of a third major computer platform: Windows, Mac OS X, iPhone."  If he's on the money - which I think he may well be - you could be looking at the future of Apple: mobile, connected computing on a cellphone-sized platform.  

Killer apps matter more to Apple's targeted user than the quality of iPhone's camera or availability of stereo Bluetooth.  Yesterday we saw mobile eBay, GPS-aware social networking, games, a blogging app, a personalized news feed app, and some medical industry stuff ... and, oh yeah, "mobile Garage Band" (actually, it's called "Band") ... and that's just the very tip of the iceberg.  Developers have roundly been praising the iPhone SDK as a great environment to build in, and Apple's got that $100 VC fund set up to fuel iPhone app development.  

Heck, just take a look at all of the stuff developed for the Jailbroken iPhone community without any Apple support at all.  That should give you an idea of the excitement swirling around iPhone as computer, and it's only going to grow with actual development tools and an Apple-built distribution model in place.  

Microsoft exchange support, along with some very barebones support for MS Office documents (read-only) is the real beginning of Apple's assault on the RIM BlackBerry's stranglehold on the enterprise smartphone world.  iPhone's virtual keyboard will never be as easy to type on as BlackBerry's real one, but it's definitely workable once you get used to it.  As Apple often does, they released iPhone version 1 as something of a "Paid Public Beta," and have listened to the feedback that matters to their big picture plans, implementing what looks to be robust contacts search in the version two software.  They're also throwing a bone to corporate IT shops with limited closed distribution of custom enterprise apps for iPhone.

Finally, Mobile Me may turn out to be little more than a failed rebranding of a failed Apple service - .Mac.  But it could turn out to be something pretty cool for college kids, soccer moms, and small business owners who aren't beholden to their Outlook apps and MS Exchange servers.  Apple's demo of Mobile Me's three-way syncing of calendars, contacts, push Email, and photos between desktop/laptop, Web interface, and iPhone was pretty slick, I must say.  I don't know if tech geeks like me will pony up $99/year for something we can cobble together ourselves using free tools like iGoogle, but ask me again after I take advantage of that 60-day trial.  I'd love to see Mobile Me come free, or at least cheaper, with the purchase of an iPhone.

Which brings me to my last point.  Apple fired another cannon blast across the bow of the cell phone industry by cutting iPhone's price to $199/299.  This brings the best all-around device in the industry in line, price-wise, with everyone else's best offerings.  Yes, AT&T raised their data plan rates and cut bundled messaging, effectively raising iPhone's lifetime cost of ownership despite the price cut on the hardware itself.  But most consumers won't care - we tend not to look at the long term, for better or for worse.  

A $199 iPhone makes a $299 Vu (AT&T), $199 Venus and $249 RAZR2 (Verizon) look overpriced.  And what's Sprint going to do with their still unpriced Samsung Instinct, which they've been marketing as a direct competitor to iPhone?  Just as Apple made everybody else scramble to jump on the touchscreen media phone train a year ago, now they're going to make them all rethink their stances on pricing and downloadable applications.  

Whatever you think of Apple and iPhone, you've got to agree:  This is all nothing but good for consumers.