iPhone Launch, Like Device, is Dazzling, Frustrating

iPhone Launch, Like Device, is Dazzling, Frustrating

   by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

Last Friday, at 6:00 P.M. local time, Apple's eagerly-awaited iPhone smart phone went on sale at Apple retail stores and select AT&T stores around the United States, giving consumers their first peek at Apple's view of the mobile future. For the Apple sycophants who waited in line for the device, often overnight, the wait was worth it: The iPhone delivers on the technologic promises Apple has been making for months. For the more discerning user, however, the iPhone is riddled with bugs, missing features, and has curious functional lapses. It is, in other words, an iconic Apple product, able to dazzle and bewilder at the same time.

From a marketing standpoint, the iPhone is an unqualified success. Demand and excitement for the device has been building since Apple CEO Steve Jobs made the curious decision to avoid discussion about the Macintosh at the company's annual Mac-oriented Macworld trade show to focus instead on the secret new iPhone. Since then, Apple has handled the six-month wait for the iPhone with calculated ease, dribbling out details to an insatiable public. By the time the device went on sale last week, excitement had built to a fevered pitch. Apple fans were lining up outside stores, sometimes days in advance, to be among the first to spend several hundred dollars for the shiny little metal object. The iPhone pre-release excitement rivaled that generated for other consumer electronics devices such as the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, and the Nintendo Wii, or long-awaited movies like "Star Wars Episode I."

Once users got the devices home, however, reality set in. Thanks to Apple's unique registration system, by which customers activate the phones via its PC- and Mac-based iTunes software, no one could use the devices right away. Instead, iPhone purchasers had to race home, plug them into their computers, and step through the activation process themselves. Sadly, many iPhone customers then discovered--as I did, incidentally--that they would have to wait to receive an activation code from AT&T, thanks to overwhelmed servers. Many customers were left staring at a useless $500-600 slab until their activation codes arrived.

Disappointed users notwithstanding, the device itself lives up to much of the hype. The technology in the iPhone, from the cool touch screen with unique zooming functionality to the rotating screen, usually (but not always) works as advertised. The battery life is surprisingly good for a device of this kind, even when performing battery-unfriendly tasks such as Web browsing or video playback. Functionally, however, the iPhone is a mixed bag. The built-in applications are usually excellent, but a curious mixture, and you can't download any new applications. Some iPhone features seem half-baked or are missing altogether. For example, although the iPhone sports "visual voicemail" (which is excellent), it doesn't support basic cell phone features such as Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS). The iPhone Web browser is the best ever on a mobile device, but because Apple chose its own Safari browser, it's incompatible or non-optimal with many Web sites, especially those specifically designed for smart phones. For every vaunted feature, it seems, there's a caveat.

All this said, the iPhone is as revolutionary as Apple has claimed. It's just a typical 1.0 product, with lots of room for improvement. I'll continue to track Apple's progress with this intriguing device and will review the iPhone later this month. In the meantime, you can check out my first impressions, along with various photo galleries, screenshots, and other iPhone articles, on the SuperSite for Windows.


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