Tuesday I hopped a plane from Las Vegas to San Francisco just after Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled his newest "gotta have it" gadget: iPhone. Wednesday morning I made my way to MacWorld 2007 at the Moscone Center to catch a glimpse of Apple's first foray into the cellular marketplace.
It's funny because Monday morning I toured Nokia's N-Series pavilion outside of the Las Vegas Convention Center at CES. Nokia had a booth inside of the show itself, but had also erected a massive tent in front of LVCC specifically to show off their vision for connected, handheld "multimedia computers." In addition to getting some hands-on time with the new N95, N93i, and N76 handsets I also got a guided tour of the company's new Web-based services and mobile, car, and home accessories designed to turn your cell phone into a full-on multimedia experience.
The tour was impressive and I emerged from the pavilion taken with Nokia's vision for converting cellular users in the US to a way of thinking about cell phones more common in the company's homeland of Finland. Fins view their phones as status symbols, items worth spending good money on in order to get the latest functionality and best styling. Here in the US, we're used to getting lesser quality phones for free when we sign up for new service contracts. Nokia wants to change that and they've got a line of handsets - and an emerging infrastructure of photo and video blogging services, a music recommendation and purchasing Web site, and a slew of Bluetooth add-ons for connecting your handset at home and in the car - to prove it.
But now comes iPhone. Apple is already the fourth leading retailer of music in the United States. They've already got distribution deals with a bunch of leading music, TV, and movie studios. They've already got a wealth of experience in the computer industry, including a ton of Web services made for their Mac computers. And now they've got a cell phone to put it all in your pocket.
iPhone wasn't available for the public to demo at MacWorld (they had two handsets on display on glass-enclosed pedestals), but Apple was running back-to-back demos of the handset all day long on one of their stages. The demos were enormously impressive. iPhone won't do anything that Nokia's N-Series can't - save for Cingular's new Visual Voicemail service - but it looks to do it all with Apple's trademark blend of user friendliness, top-notch design, and inimitable sex appeal. Everything from placing a call to listening to music to browsing photos looks flat-out amazing on iPhone.
And that's the thing that Apple's banking on taking a bite out of Nokia, Sony Ericsson, and all the other companies already in the multimedia phone business: iPhone may not have the specs to go head to head with the N95s and K790a's of the world, but once consumers get a glimpse of Apple's sexy lines and jaw-dropping graphical interface, they may not care so much about megapixels and 3G vs EDGE. Apple's got this way of creating enough buzz to get you into the store to check out their wares, and then making those wares feel so good in your hand that you just can't let go.
That's how the iPod became the runaway hit that fueled those two billion song downloads at the iTunes Music Store. Apple's betting that the iPhone will do the same thing for their foray into mobile Internet and media services. Only time will tell, but I for one can't wait to get one into my hands come June.