Apple's iPhone Counts on Being Cool
One button. For years, that's all Apple would allow on the mouse that accompanied its Macintosh pcs, arguing that more would complicate a system that stressed simplicity. Now it's one button on Apple's iPhone, a radical experiment in cellphones that has become a phenomenon before it has even been subjected to the ultimate test: consumers around the world.
It's unclear if the iPhone can meet Apple's ambitious goals, much less satisfy runaway expectations in an always hyped-up market. But there is no question that the iPhone, which is scheduled to be shipped to stores on June 29, has already had a tectonic impact. "You have to give them credit for shifting the way we even think about a phone," says Gerry Purdy, an analyst at the market research firm Frost & Sullivan.
Rivals are racing to match the device's new approach, which abandons traditional keys for a touchpad, opening space for a larger screen and elbow room for photos and video. Competitors hope to capture a slice of a market that until now has not even existed in the United States, where no one has ever sold a $500-and-up phone that is more about multimedia than about voice calls.
Not that others couldn't have. Most, if not all, of the gear that Apple has packaged into the iPhone is not unique, be it touch-screens, WiFi, Bluetooth, or a cameraeven the iPhone's seeming magic in sensing if it's being held vertically or horizontally, shifting its screen appropriately. But that kitchen-sink approach is Apple's gamble: deftly packing oodles of capability into one sleek device and assuming Americans will pay for it (with no discount while being handcuffed to a two-year service plan).
Expectations. Apple is wagering that it can be first because of its superior fit and finish. The iPhone's raw technical specs left him cold, says Avi Greengart, recalling his initial reaction as Steve Jobs described the new product in a January speech. Then he got 15 minutes to try one, and his skepticism melted. "I realized it lives up to the hype," says Greengart, who has tested scores of hand-held devices for the market-tracking firm Current Analysis.
Apple understands that it's the software, stupid, and has written numerous nice touches into the system that runs all that gear. Some of them make the iPhone uniquely attractive: shadows behind objects, like a desktop computer, and fade transitions between screens. Flick the touch-screen and send a list scrolling, then watch it slow down as if on a physical spindle. Apple also manages to walk users through tasks like setting up a conference callwho can manage one of those on a cellphone?without patronizing them with dumbed-down "wizards" or cutesy characters. "Many people hate, hate, hate their cellphones," Greengart says. "The iPhone doesn't make you feel stupidit makes you feel cool."
There are things missing from the iPhone, including high-speed Internet, even though Jobs touted its Web browser. The phone won't tap the fastest data rates available from AT&T, with which Apple will sell the phone.